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What conflict resolution skills should I use in my relationships?

Sep 6, 2023

Dr. Liz Powell: What are some conflict resolution skills you would recommend for new relationships? 

I mean I don’t if they are different than the established ones. 

Sander Jones: Yeah.

I don’t know that they are different than the established relationships. 

Dr. Liz Powell: I mean what I might say because again, I am that bitch, is like don’t do the “I am a perfect person” for like the huge first chunk of your relationship.

Don’t do that.

Don’t be your worst self.

They don’t need to see like you haven’t showered for three days and I’m having my fifth box of macaroni and cheese.

Not that I’ve ever done that ever.

But if something is bugging you and it feels weird, just bring it up right away.

See how that happens. 

Not that I look for conflict but I try to make sure that if there’s something coming up early in the relationship, I bring it up real fast just to see how that goes because I need to know.

If someone is going to be using some very unhelpful, harmful conflict skills, I want to know that really early on before I’m deeply emotionally invested in someone. 

Sander Jones: Yeah.

And it’s also good to watch that from the other direction too.

Does this other person bring up things when it bothers them or did they wait until they explode? 

Dr. Liz Powell: Yup.

And I think too when you’re new in a relationship, I think it’s really, really easy to be in this place of like, “Oh, what will they find? It will be fine. It will be fine. We love each other so much.” 

If you’ve watched Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, they have that song, We Will Never Have Problems Again, such a good song.

Everybody should listen to it and remind themselves when they’re in NRE that it’s a fucking lie.

When we are in a new relationship, we have this like infinite belief in our ability to be different people.

That like, “Yes, them leaving their socks on the floor is bugging me now but like I’m going to be fine with it. It’s only bugging me at like a one or two and I’m sure they’re going to stop.”

And/or I will stop being a person who is annoyed by socks on the floor.

I’m sure.

It has always been who I am but not with this person.

They will change me.


You can change. 

Sander Jones: One day, those socks will bother you. 

Dr. Liz Powell: The socks will fucking bother you, right.

And something that I’ve done is I put together a relationship manual that talks about like who I am and what my shit is, because I want people to know like if you are dating me, I want you to be able to look at my shit and be able to make an informed decision about whether this is going to work for you. 

It’s the same thing of like I think that if you have things that are important to you in relationship like deal breakers, you should talk about them real early.

Don’t wait until 6 months in to discuss whether this person wants kids or not because … 

Sander Jones: Yeah, that can actually be really manipulative.

That was one of the things that Dan Savage was talking last week about the Jonah thing. 

Dr. Liz Powell: Yeah. 

Sander Jones: And one of the things he said was that manipulative people will wait until the other person has gotten very emotionally invested then they start with the manipulative behavior.

So bring up this stuff early. 

Dr. Liz Powell: Yeah.

And I think – I’ve seen some people in poly groups talk about like, “You shouldn’t be having any big conversations for at least 6 months.”

I’m like, “Absolutely not. By date 3, you should know does this person want to get married? Does this person want to cohabitate with people? Does this person want kids?” 

Sander Jones: You should be asking the big questions.

You should not be making the big changes. 

Dr. Liz Powell: No, no, no.

Don’t make the big plans.

Don’t pick your house up together. 

Sander Jones: Don’t move across the country for somebody you’ve known for two months. 

Dr. Liz Powell: But you should know like are we align on these things? 

Sander Jones: Right. 

Dr. Liz Powell: I love trashy reality TV, The Ultimatum.

I don’t know if you’ve watched that on Netflix.

They did an all-queer season with like lesbians and suffix [1:08:18] [Phonetic] and it was so bad because … 

Sander Jones: I’m going to have to go look that up. 

Dr. Liz Powell: OK.

So the premise of The Ultimatum for you and for anybody else who hasn’t watched it is there are couples where one person wants to get married, the other isn’t sure.

So they give their partner and ultimatum of like, “You need to propose or we’re going to break up.”

So they come to this show and at the start of the show, they break up and then they date everybody else who is there and pick somebody else to move in with for 3 weeks in a trial marriage.

And then they break up with that person, move back in with their original person for 3 weeks, and at the end of that second 3 weeks, they decide who they want to marry or if they want to live alone.


It’s horrendous. 

But what happens on the show is you see that a lot of these couples have been together for three, five years and they have fundamental differences and incompatibilities that they refused to acknowledge because they’ve been together so long and they want to be together. 

Sander Jones: Right. 

Dr. Liz Powell: Like, “I really want to be married. I really want to have kids. I don’t know if I ever want to have kids. We can’t break up though because we love each other so much.” 

Sander Jones: Yeah. 

Dr. Liz Powell: Break up!

Break up, please!


Sander Jones: Not the end of the world. 

Dr. Liz Powell: I’ve been the breakup doula for enough couples.

Please just do it yourself.

No, that’s a lie.

I will happily be your breakup doula.

I love this. 

But there is this way that people get deep into these relationships that have a fundamental incompatibility about something very important and they just … 

Sander Jones: Bury their head in the sand. 

Dr. Liz Powell: This person is going to change.

Of course, they’re going to want kids eventually.

Of course, they’re going to eventually love monogamy.

Of course, they’re eventually going to want to live in the suburbs, in the house rather than in the city and the apartment.

Just ... [Laughter] 

There was this old show, Coupling, that was written by Steven Moffat. 

Sander Jones: I’ve seen that. 

Dr. Liz Powell: And Sally is like dating this new person and comes to her friends and says to them, “He is a whole buffet of improvability.”


Sander Jones: Improvability is not something to look for.

Dr. Liz Powell: Your partner is not a DIY project.

That’s not – you shouldn’t date someone for who you’re going to change them into.

That’s not healthy for either of you. 

Sander Jones: Yeah. 

Dr. Liz Powell: Yeah.

But yeah, skills in new relationships same as skills in established ones.

And I think like a lot of people would argue it’s like easier to have conflict in a new relationship in some ways because stakes are lower.

You don’t already live together. 

Sander Jones: It depends. 

Dr. Liz Powell: It depends.

It depends on the person.

It depends on the situation.

I think that the things that are good skills are good skills.

And I think sometimes it is easier for us to be skillful early in a relationship because … 

Sander Jones: It’s certainly easier to make up. 

Dr. Liz Powell: Yeah.

Yeah, because the sex is still fire. 

Sander Jones: Yeah. 

Dr. Liz Powell: I don’t stay when the sex is not fire because sex is actually really important to me.

And it’s OK for sex to be important.

That’s OK.

Sex can be a very important thing for you in your relationships. 

Sander Jones: Yup, absolutely.

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