Conflict Resolution

Marital Conflict: Turning Arguments Into Opportunities

Richard Nicastro, Ph.D. asked:

Once an argument has been settled, it’s human nature to tuck it away in the back of your mind so you never have to revisit it again. After all, why would you want to stir up all those negative feelings associated with the argument? It’s easy to think that only a glutton for punishment would do such a thing–especially if you hold the mindset that arguments are bad for your relationship and should be avoided.

But what if certain arguments are opportunities in disguise? Would you be willing to revisit the argument if that were the case?

Think of an argument as a warning light on your car dashboard. You wouldn’t wait for the light to burn out and then assume that the problem has somehow been resolved. You’d need to check the engine and discover the cause of the problem. The same holds true for your relationship.

Certain arguments can become opportunities for growth and for learning (about yourself and your partner). Since conflict often arises because emotional or physical needs go unmet, self-examination goes a long way in discovering which of your (and your partner’s) needs are not being satisfied. In this light, arguments are prime opportunities to build a more resilient marriage or relationship.


Wait for the embers of an argument to cool off–Once you have gained some emotional distance, ask yourself these three questions (you might get more from this exercise if you journal your responses):

1. What was my primary feeling during the argument (e.g., anger, frustration, hurt, jealousy)?

2. If my primary feeling suddenly vanished, what other feeling(s) would still exist?

3. The final step: use each of the feelings you reported in questions 1 and 2 to complete the following question:

I was feeling ________ because I was needing ________ (focus on you, not your partner–no matter how much you blame him/her for the fight).

Please take your time while answering these questions. You might need to revisit them several times to achieve clarification. Once your needs are self-evident, work on ways to express them as clearly as possible. Share the importance of these needs with your partner and coach him/her on how to meet these needs (don’t assume s/he will automatically meet them).

While it isn’t realistic (or beneficial) to complete this exercise every time you and your partner don’t see eye to eye, it can be helpful to examine the arguments that recur in your marriage or relationship (and never seem to reach resolution) and the fights that cause you to have a particularly strong emotional reaction.

Continue to practice answering these questions over time (and across arguments) and you’ll be on your way to greater self-discovery and a more resilient relationship.

To uncover other relationship tips, visit Dr. Nicastro’s website at and sign up for his FREE monthly newsletter. You will also immediately receive two free reports that can help you build the relationship of your dreams.

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