Conflict with the people in your life is unavoidable.  I can come from a spouse, coworker, or friend – or even a random stranger on social media. Sometimes conflict is a necessary and healthy part of strengthening a relationship, but often it’s a source of stress and anxiety that strains your ties with loved ones and peers. It can even impact your overall health.

What can you do to minimize conflict in your relationships? How can you handle it with a healthy approach when it does occur? Here are some tips from conflict resolution experts.

Understand the effects of conflict

Conflict doesn’t just impact your mental health and mood, it can even affect your physical well-being. By stimulating stress hormones, conflict can have long-term and potentially serious effects on your body, including heart problems, fatigue, and a weakened immune system. A conflict that drags on over time can allow more of these effects to build up since you stay continually stressed.

Be aware of a future conflict

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Most conflicts don’t suddenly show up out of nowhere. Often, tension has been building in the relationship and something happens to bring it to the surface. Maybe your spouse has been feeling ignored for a while, and they explode over it when you don’t immediately respond to a text. Or your coworker is worried about their job stability and takes out their feelings on you in a meeting. Pay attention to subtle cues in your day-to-day interactions with family, friends, and coworkers. You may be able to predict future conflicts and take steps to prevent them. Let your spouse know that you’ve been stressed at work and it’s making you distracted and distant. Take your coworker to lunch and encourage them to open up about their concerns.

Avoid miscommunications by being direct

When you aren’t clear about your expectations or boundaries, you’re at risk for serious conflict. People may hurt you unintentionally. Try to be direct about your needs.  This way, your partner, your friends, and your coworkers can prevent disappointment and hurt feelings. The other side of this tip is to listen when someone is being direct with you. Get clarity if you are unsure of their point of view.

Practice empathy

It sounds obvious, but trying to understand the mindset of someone you might have conflict with can go along way toward easing tensions and preventing fights. Try to think like your boss – are they under a lot of stress that’s affecting how they treat you? Or imagine how your spouse might be feeling after a long day of work because they’re being a bit distant. You should still let people know when their actions are hurting you.  It is helpful for long-term peace to try to see things from another angle first.

Solve problems together

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One strategy for getting out of a win-or-lose mindset in a conflict is to treat the issue at hand as belonging to both parties. If you and your spouse, friend, or coworker can view the conflict as an issue that you both need to solve for your mutual benefit, you might be more open to each other’s point of view. This can lead to creative problem-solving, more open listening, and hopefully a solution that satisfies both of you and strengthens the relationship.

Take note that that there is a big difference between a healthy relationship with a normal amount of conflict and a toxic or even abusive relationship. Wanting to minimize conflict in a healthy relationship isn’t the same as feeling like you’re in constant conflict with someone who isn’t fair to you. Does your partner, friend, or coworker consistently minimize your feelings or refuse to listen to your concerns? That may be a sign that the relationship isn’t balanced and minimizing conflict might not be worth your time.