You Should Know Your (and Your Partner’s) Conflict Resolution Style

written by MICHELLE LEMA
conflict resolution styles"
conflict resolution styles
Source: Mizuno K | Pexels
Source: Mizuno K | Pexels

When I look back at all of the relationships that have shaped me, especially the romantic ones, I always remember two things: the day we had the most fun and the day we had our most epic conflict. While I remember that there was a conflict, I often don’t remember what we were actually fighting about. What I do remember is that those conversations eventually led to a conflict about how we each deal with conflict. Or, as you might say, fighting about fighting, or even more simply, miscommunication. I remember once having an argument with a partner that went on so long, the sun came up. I also remember watching a partner slowly creep out of a room as if they were invisible in order to avoid a discussion. But mostly, I recall feelings of confusion, wondering why I simply couldn’t get on the same page with certain partners when it came to disagreements.

If you’ve ever felt the same, you might be wondering what you or your partner can do about it. Enter, the conflict resolution style. The conflict resolution style is the key to knowing how you and your partner react to conflict and how to support each other. When you know this, you can start to get to the root of the issue, instead of fighting about how you fight. Here’s how to identify conflict resolution styles and some advice on how to navigate them:

What is a conflict resolution style?

Conflict resolution style, also known as conflict management style, is the way in which we go about addressing problems. This can be when we’re witnessing conflict or are directly confronted with it. Conflict resolution doesn’t just apply to our romantic relationships. It can apply to our friendships, our work life, and our family dynamics. It’s ultimately a part of being human, as we constantly navigate and react to different personalities and environments. When a conflict is happening with a partner that you spend most of your time with, it can become extremely important to identify your styles in order to work toward resolution.

What are the types of conflict resolution styles?

According to the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, which actually has an ongoing blog related to Conflict Resolution not just related to law, there are five main categories most people fall into when facing conflict: accommodating, avoiding, compromising, collaborating, and competing. While these might seem self-explanatory, acknowledging your tendencies can be eye-opening. For me, these types of categorical traits can sometimes seem too, well, categorized. So keep in mind as you’re reading that not everyone is one thing. You may feel drawn to one category, but also know that at work you lean towards a different category. Or you recognize your partner’s conflict resolution style, but it doesn’t always fit. Think about the way in which you and your partner manage conflict the most often in these cases. Here is a breakdown of each style:


The accommodating conflict resolution style is going to do just that: accommodate the needs of others first. In order to end a conflict, this person might go along with something, even if they don’t fully agree with it. This might look like something as simple as both partners stating what they want for dinner and one partner immediately agreeing with the other person’s preference. Unlike avoidance, which you’ll read more about below, the conflict is being addressed, but the accommodating partner might not be speaking up about what they truly want.


The person who engages in this conflict resolution style wants to avoid conflict at all costs. If conflict arises, they will not engage and might simply walk away or not respond. A classic example of this is if you’ve ever brought up a conflict and your partner has communicated to you, “I don’t want to talk about it.” However, sometimes avoiding will not be communicated verbally. If your partner is quiet or disengaged, that can also be a way of not entering the conversation.


When you’re compromising in conflict, you’re trying to find a solution that satisfies both parties. For example, this might come into play if you and your partner have different work schedules. If your partner consistently works late, but you always have to wake up early, spending time together might require someone altering their schedule or losing sleep. In this case, a compromise might look like alternating between evenings and mornings for quality time so that neither partner has to constantly adapt to the other’s schedule. When I was a kid, I remember being told that this was the best way to exit conflict: both people in a relationship were equally giving and taking. I also know as an adult that this is incredibly difficult to achieve. However, it can be super satisfying when you’re able to hug your partner after you’ve both reached a compromise you’re happy with.

Conflict resolution doesn’t just apply to our romantic relationships. It can apply to our friendships, our work life, and our family dynamics. It’s ultimately a part of being human, as we constantly navigate and react to different personalities and environments.


If you’ve ever worked on a project or presented something with a co-worker, you might call that a collaboration. This is a great way to look at this conflict resolution style: people who want to talk about the conflict and move through it as one. Essentially, it’s a more emotional and in-depth version of compromising that requires a lot of energy and space. Let’s say you and your partner don’t live together and are having a conflict about staying at one partner’s house more than the other’s. Collaborating would begin with identifying the conflict and potential resolutions (like creating a schedule or moving in together). Then, each partner might make a pros and cons list of the available resolutions. Lastly, collaborating partners would discuss these pros and cons until they reach an outcome they can both be happy with. This might mean having designated days of the week when each partner takes time in their own home.


The person who engages in competing conflict resolution wants to win, and they will stop at nothing to get there. I’m willing to bet that this is probably the type of conflict resolution that leads to the most epic fights in relationships. For example, a conflict might begin with a seemingly small issue that actually deeply connects to one of the partner’s values, like asking them to clean up around your living space more often. A competing partner might feel like their values are being questioned, and instead of addressing the request, will work to “clear their name” by proving that the request is unfounded. This way of resolving conflict is the other side of the coin to the accommodating style, but both can be just as problematic because one partner is not being heard.

How to identify your conflict resolution style

Now that you know the various conflict resolution styles, it’s time to figure out how they apply to you and your partner. If you don’t know yet, start by identifying your conflict resolution style first, then work toward identifying your partner’s. Here are some tips to guide your personal reflections:

Reread old journals and/or start a journal

Treat discovering your conflict resolution style like research. If you’ve ever kept a journal, it can be a powerful tool to understand where you and your partner were coming from, how you argued, and what the outcome was. I’ve read entries in my own journals and subsequently realized I once tended to compromise too much with certain partners. If you’ve never kept a journal, this might be a good time to try it out. After having a conflict with your partner, write out what the conflict was about. When reflecting or recalling, just be as honest as possible without yet trying to identify your conflict resolution style.

Identify the core conflicts in your past

Once you’ve researched your past conflicts, it’s time to identify your core conflicts. These are the conflicts between you and your current partner or previous partners that stand out to you the most. This could be a memory of when a conflict went particularly poorly or an argument that has happened with multiple partners. How did you react in these conflicts? What exactly did you say or do? Was there a resolution, and if so, did you feel satisfied with it? Now, identify the behaviors from the above list of conflict resolution styles you may have engaged in during these core conflicts.

Identify recurring patterns and outcomes

Once you have a list of your core conflicts and how they match up to the styles, see if you can identify the patterns. For example, maybe you never spoke up about what you truly wanted in a conflict. Or, you always got what you wanted. Maybe you and your partner spent hours trying to figure out a way to make each person happy. Chances are, you will recognize the style that you gravitate towards the most. This is the style you should be most cognizant of as you move forward in conflict with your partner.

How to navigate conflict resolution styles together

In the end, conflict resolution is not about anyone winning. It’s about figuring it out together and resolving the conflict as a unit. Once you understand your own style and that of your partner, it’s time to start talking about how you want to deal with conflict. The best time to do this is not when you’re in the middle of a conflict. Instead, set aside some time to have this discussion with your partner, perhaps over your favorite meal. Here are some tips to try out when you’re having these conversations, based on the conflict resolution style of your partner:

In the end, conflict resolution is not about anyone winning. It’s about figuring it out together and resolving the conflict as a unit.

If you or your partner has an accommodating conflict resolution style…

Sometimes, life gets so busy that we forget to ask our partners how they’re doing and really listen to the response. If your partner has an accommodating conflict resolution style, it can be especially confusing to understand their needs. If you notice that your partner is always giving in when you have disagreements or not entering them at all, it’s time to start consistently asking them what they want in the moment. You can start with the little things, like what show they want to binge together next, and eventually move into bigger topics like finances. Sometimes, a question is all we need to start the flow of communication.

If you or your partner has an avoiding conflict resolution style…

If your partner identifies with the avoiding conflict resolution style, you’ll want to find a balance between the space they need and your need to address the problem. Try scheduling “safe space” time to check in with each other, without making an agenda about conflict. My partner and I like to spend our Sunday mornings talking about how we feel about the upcoming week. Often these relaxing moments are great for an avoiding style to feel comfortable letting their guard down. In these safe moments, their feelings about a current conflict might naturally come up without the pressure of being in the conflict.

If you or your partner has a compromising conflict resolution style…

The compromising resolution style can usually seem like the ideal trait for your partner when you’re in conflict. However, if you’re always compromising and no one is ever getting what they want, you might want to try something else. Start small and work up to bigger issues. If you and your partner can never decide what to do on the weekends because one of you loves crowds and the other loves home, you might always be compromising. Instead, try dedicating one evening activity a month to each partner. Go to a concert for the partner who loves crowds, and then plan a stay-at-home movie night for the other partner. This way, each partner is getting to do something they love without having to compromise.

If you or your partner has a collaborating conflict resolution style…

If your partner has a collaborating style, you might feel exhausted by the amount of time it takes to talk through conflict and subsequent resolutions. A great way to address this is by setting a time limit for talking about conflict. If you and your partner could win a trophy for the number of hours you’ve talked about a conflict, try setting a reasonable time limit for these discussions and sticking to it. You can even set an alarm and agree that when the alarm goes off, you’ll take some space away from the conflict to do something else.

If you or your partner has a competing conflict resolution style…

The partner who has a competing conflict resolution style can often be difficult to communicate with in the middle of a conflict. In this case, it’s time to set boundaries. If you feel like the conflict is going nowhere because your partner just wants to win the argument, let them know that you need space and would like to continue the conversation later. Often this will take some steadfast boundary setting, but it gets easier with practice. Once this boundary is established, try writing down your feelings instead of discussing them, which might allow your partner to hear you without feeling the need to start up a debate.

What you should do if you want to know more about your conflict resolution styles

Knowing your partner’s conflict resolution style as well as your own can be an incredibly helpful tool. Of course, if you’re still experiencing difficulties with conflict, couples therapy with a licensed professional is an effective way to continue exploring this topic. While so many therapists are now on social media and often have incredibly helpful infographics or videos for us to learn from, engaging in person with someone who is trained to deal with conflict resolution is an absolute game-changer. As I mentioned before, our conflict resolution techniques don’t always fit into one category. A therapist can help couples figure out the root of their conflicts, as well as the best way to work through them together or apart.