A 6-Part Process for Managing Conflict in Your Relationships

In partnership with our friends at Porsche

To dream is to imagine a world full of possibility. To realize a dream is to turn those ideas—big or small—into reality. We teamed up with Porsche to create the Drive Series: three bite-size workshops that cover different tools for navigating our dreams and the challenges and opportunities that come with them.

Los Angeles–based social psychologist Sara Nasserzadeh, PhD, is interested in connections and how they lead to meaningful relationships. In her practice, she sees both couples and individuals. She helps people cultivate the life they want through fulfilling relationships—the kind of relationships that help us grow, become more self-aware, and strengthen our sense of compassion for one another. Of course, Nasserzadeh knows that conflict and disagreement are inevitable parts of life and any relationship. Learning how to navigate and manage conflict and emotional tension is critical to our growth—without that piece, we can’t fully live out our dreams or desires.

And that’s the topic of this ten-minute video workshop in our new drive series with Porsche (did you know we adore a pun?). It’s not always easy (and for some of us, it’s never easy) to self-regulate when you’re in the throes of a heated argument. Nasserzadeh’s mini workshop is a solid lesson in how to handle conflict gracefully, so both parties come out on the other side with a better understanding of each other and themselves. It is not about figuring out who’s right or wrong. Her suggestions are practical, and you can apply them to many different situations and types of relationships—romantic or otherwise.

When you watch the video, you’ll see that Nasserzadeh has an extraordinary, captivating presence on-screen. But we’re also very excited that she’ll be joining us—in person—at our next In goop Health summit, on November 7. We’re teaming up with Porsche for a full day of conversations and workshops to explore more ways to harness our potential and build out dreams of all kinds.

workshop notes

Everyday conflicts can wear you down more than big blowouts.

Material fatigue, which Nasserzadeh explains in the workshop, is a phenomenon in physics that can also explain why conflict management matters—even the small stuff. “Think of it this way: You can break a glass with a bang of a hammer, like a very overt act of betrayal in a relationship, or you can flick a glass over a period of time, those little everyday annoyances, and one day, with the slightest touch, it shatters,” she says. “This is how many relationships break. So managing those seemingly little negative interactions is critical [in order] to prevent or mend cracks before it’s too late.”

There are two different types of conflict.

The goal in life is not to avoid conflict, says Nasserzadeh. It’s learning how to integrate both our unconscious, primal flight-or-fight instincts and more sophisticated, conscious types of conflict. Learning how to bring these two types of conflict together and manage them in a healthy way helps us build resiliency and deeper connections.

“Our body has a system of letting us know if we are safe in any given moment. The technical term for it is ‘neuroceptions’—the way our nervous system perceives the cues from the environment,” says Nasserzadeh. At an unconscious level of conflict, our bodies will try to keep us safe by responding with aggression, distancing, projection, shaming, detaching, blaming, giving in, or overpleasing.

The second type of conflict is conscious and is based on sociocultural constructs of the roles and power dynamics in any given relationship that you are in, says Nasserzadeh: “It’s a more sophisticated cognitive process that results in a more responsive interaction.” While unconscious types of conflict and conflict management are more about self-preservation, Nasserzadeh explains that the main purpose of conscious types of conflict is to resolve a relational tension and ultimately to create deeper and more meaningful connections.

Know your conflict-management style.

According to Nasserzadeh, there are three types of conflict-management styles: net and sword, stallions, and turtles. In the net and sword types, one person wants to approach and solve the conflict head-on, while the sword type wants to be left alone and can get defensive. Stallions approach conflict with power, passion, and tension before eventually burning out and repeating the cycle again. The turtles would rather retreat to their shells, pretend as if nothing has happened, and hope that the disagreement will resolve itself. “Take a moment to think which one resonates most with you,” says Nasserzadeh. “It’ll help you. Why? If you’re a net and sword type of person, and you’re in the sword section, you really need space.” Understanding your conflict-management style—and your partner’s—can help you respond and communicate effectively in real time.

Be responsive, not reactive.

Watch how you frame what just happened. Nasserzadeh says that the language (bickering, tiff, row, fight, quarrel, argument, disagreement, etc.) we use matters a lot because it frames the expectation about the process and what is about to be discussed. “If I say I just had a big fight, it means that even if we resolve it, there needs to be a winner here,” she explains.

Don’t forget that your body and mind both need to move on from an incident. Make sure your body feels safe. In an intimate partnership, the key is to be close, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you immediately need to hug or pin the other person down in a way that limits their body movement. “Gradually reintroduce your bodies and nervous systems together,” says Nasserzadeh. Try sitting side by side or back to back and just breathe, and then move on from the situation.

When We Follow the Process

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Sara Nasserzadeh, PhD, is a Los Angeles–based author, clinician, and social psychologist specializing in sexuality, relationships, and intercultural proficiency. Nasserzadeh is a certified supervisor and senior accredited member of the College of Sex and Relationship Therapists (COSRT) in England and a certified sexuality counselor and approved training provider through the American Association for Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT).