A Blueprint for Managing Conflict

couple communicating with quote box filled with images

Having a healthy blueprint for handling your conflict with your partner or spouse can be ever so nice. It takes the guess-work out of what to do with the upset between you. I have been sharing from Dr. John Gottman’s research the last couple of posts. He just has so much that I feel is valuable as to creating a healthy couple relationship. This blueprint is actually a combination of Dr. Gottman’s work and Rapoport’s work that was used to help with international conflict during the Cold War. Pretty interesting how Gottman incorporated some of Rapoport’s work. Some of the core principles that he incorporated from Rapoport’s work are:

  1. We must agree that there are “two valid realities”. The focus is on perception and not facts.
  2. Each partner must feel that they have been “heard and understood”. The person’s emotions must be understood. To keep from being in an adversary position, the partners need to be able to fully express to each other their positions they are coming from and each feel they are understood. Only after this is in place can partners try to use persuasion.

Steps for Managing Conflict – The Gottman – Rapoport Conflict Blueprint

Step 1:  Listen and Validate.

The speaker and listener each have a role for this process. You and your partner will take turns being the speaker and listener. Understanding your partners point of view is crucial. 


As the speaker you do the following:

  • Avoid “you” statements that are blaming in nature and uses “I” statements.
  • Express your feelings.
  • You share your “positive need” opposed to a complaint.

As the listener you do the following:

  • You listen carefully to your partner and reflect back what you understood are their needs and perception. Your own “agenda” is put on hold. (Not easy, but so important.)
  • Really feel what your partner is feeling and let them know what you think they are feeling.
  • Gottman asks you to say the following to your partner, “It makes sense to me that you would feel that way and have these needs, because . . . ” This is “validating” your partner.
  • Ask your partner questions if you so desire.

Note: If you are feeling overwhelmed or “flooded”, you should take a break and “self-soothe” before you return. I feel it is important to let your partner know what you are doing so they don’t feel you have just “left”.

Step 2:  Understand Each Other’s Dreams Within Perpetual Conflict.

It is important to know the history and meaning as to each other’s perception of the issue at hand. Dialogue is the goal with acceptance of each other’s differences. You will delay trying to persuade during this step.

Step 3: Compromise with Your Partner Keeping True to Your Core Needs and Using Areas of Flexibility

Each of you will need to help your partner understand what your core needs are and why they are so important to you. Each of you will need to feel emotionally safe. Compromising takes place within areas that you each feel you have some flexibility.

Step 4:  Repair Emotional Wounds From the Past.

Process the emotional wound by understanding your two different realities. Validate and understand each other’s reality. Each of you take responsibility for your part in this emotional wound. In addition, develop a plan that can help make things better.


Ending Note: The key for this process appears to be about understanding and accepting each other’s realities. And then coming to a place where you can respectfully comprise on the parts that are not core needs.

I wish you the best in trying out this research-based conflict management blueprint. Check out The Gottman Institute’s website: www.gottman.com .

Source: Bridging the Couple Chasm: Gottman Couples Therapy: A Research-Based Approach by Drs. John Gottman, PhD and Julie Schwartz Gottman, PhD.