Relationship Expert Paula Quinsee Helps Couples Overcome Everyday Conflict

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Relationship Expert Paula Quinsee Provides Tools to Help Couples Overcome Everyday Conflict 

Chloë Hylkema

Written by: Chloë Hylkema

Chloë Hylkema

Chloë Hylkema loves using her writing skills to tell stories that matter. Her time as an English student at Emory University molded her into a detailed writer with a knack for the relatable. Chloë is familiar with what it means to date in the modern age, and she endeavors to write material that is both truthful and helpful. She has previously worked as lead campaign writer for an animal advocacy group and now brings her passion for engaging and actionable content to DatingAdvice.com.

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Edited by: Lillian Castro

Lillian Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro brings more than 30 years of journalism experience to ensure DatingAdvice articles have been edited for overall clarity, accuracy, and reader engagement. She has worked at The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, The Gwinnett Daily News, and The Gainesville Sun covering lifestyle topics.

Discuss This! Discuss This!

The Short Version: Conflict is an inevitable part of being in a relationship – but that needn’t be a bad thing. Renowned author and relationship expert Paula Quinsee challenges couples to rethink their approach to disagreement. Instead of seeing conflict as a villain to be defeated, think of it as a vital force for fostering growth and understanding. With her wealth of wisdom and years of experience, she highlights the transformative power of conflict to reveal vulnerable emotions and actually strengthen relationships.

One minute you and your partner are enjoying dinner, and the next you’re arguing over the dishes in the sink. It starts innocently enough — “I washed the dishes last night, now it’s your turn” — but there’s a tense undercurrent to the barbs being thrown. Before you know it, the disagreement has devolved into an all-out conflict.

 “You never appreciate how hard I work!” 

“You always force me to do the dirty work around the house!” 

“You never understand how much effort I put into dinner!” 

If this sounds familiar, take comfort in knowing you’re not alone. But slammed doors and silent dinners are avoidable when you know how to recognize conflict and handle the disagreement with care and respect. 

We talked to Paula Quinsee, an author and relationship expert, about the all-too-insidious nature of conflict. With her guidance, couples can stop a mundane conflict from snowballing into something destructive — perhaps even relationship-ending. 

Paula provides tools to help couples recognize conflict as it’s happening so they can stop, take a deep breath, and calmly reflect on the true nature of the disagreement. 

paula quinsee quote
Healthy relationships tackle disagreements head-on.

As Paula emphasized, conflict doesn’t need to drive a wedge between partners who are otherwise in a happy and healthy relationship. 

“Happy couples are not afraid to have difficult conversations. They’re not afraid to sit in that uncomfortable space and work through it together,” Paula told us. “They don’t turn away from each other, they actually turn towards each other.” 

How can you and your partner grow closer as a result of conflict? The key, Paula said, is to be able to recognize a conflict as it simmers — and to address it head-on, instead of avoiding it. 

Conflict Is Growth In Disguise 

Regardless of what’s causing conflict in your relationship, addressing the elephant in the room can be intimidating. What if bringing it up with your partner makes the problem worse? What if finally addressing the conflict causes an irreparable rift in your relationship? 

According to Paula, these “what ifs” only drag the problem out, making it even harder to solve. “Couples that avoid conflict, they sweep it under the carpet, [and] nothing gets resolved,” Paula said. “And so those issues will keep coming up time and time again. And eventually, it will get to a point where it will fester.” 

When you’re in the throes of conflict with your partner, simply letting it go in favor of keeping the peace can be tempting. Instead, Paula encourages couples to stay strong and focus on the big picture. 

“Conflict is growth trying to happen,” Paula said. “We avoid it … because it feels awkward and uncomfortable. That’s because we’re being challenged. We’re being pushed out of our comfort zone.” 

conflict is growth trying to happen
While arguments can be difficult, they are an avenue to deeper connection.

As couples grow alongside each other, they’re bound to experience growing pains. Remember that those growing pains aren’t necessarily a sign that something is wrong, but that something is changing. And change isn’t always something to fear. 

Paula advises couples to focus on growth when conflict arises. “When we feel emotionally unsafe, naturally, our protective walls and our defenses come up. And that’s where conflict starts creeping into the relationship,” she said. 

Instead of giving in to your defenses, a couple should try to see the conflict as a way to learn more about their partner. 

As Paula said, a couple should ask a few vital questions: “‘What can I learn about the other person? What can I learn about the situation? And how do we use these insights to help us as a couple or as a relationship to shift and move forward and not get stuck?’”

It’s Not What You Say — It’s How You Say It 

Part of what makes conflict so difficult to address is its unpredictability. How will your partner react? Will talking about an issue cause an even bigger divide? Amid all this uncertainty, there’s a timeless tool that, according to Paula, almost always works: communication. “The sooner that couples start talking about these issues, the less chance they have of escalating,” Paula said. 

“It’s really not so much about what we say, it’s how we say it.” Paula noted that the happiest couples are the ones who sit down and address problems head-on with clarity, patience, and compassion. 

“[These couples] are empathetic, and they are willing to listen, and they are willing to step into the other person’s space or world to get a deeper understanding of what’s going on there,” Paula described. 

Look into your relationship and ask yourself if you and your partner have these qualities. A lack of empathy on either part could explain why conflicts never seem to be resolved. 

As you probably know first-hand, communication isn’t always as easy as a five-minute conversation over breakfast. 

communication happens when people feel safe
When one or both partners feel unable to safely share their emotions, communication can’t flourish.

“Don’t have it on the fly or as you’re walking out the door or as you’re going to bed and falling asleep at night,” Paula advised. “It’s about making your partner aware that there is something going on for you and that you’d like to talk to them about it, and that you’d like to give it the attention that it deserves.” 

This is why, as Paula explained, Imago Relationship Therapy exists. Aimed at helping couples improve their communication, therapists who specialize in Imago therapy “Use what we call the dialogue process, which helps to contain and create a safe space,” Paula said. 

Paula used a wet towel as an example. “‘When you left the wet towel on the floor, it really made me frustrated, because it felt like you were expecting me to pick up after you. And so that really made me feel unappreciated,’” Paula analogized. 

She suggests explaining how you’d prefer your partner to handle the situation in the future. “‘Next time, what I’d really like is if you could just pick the wet towel up off the floor when you finish having a shower.’ So it’s owning it and using ‘I’ language, ‘this is how I feel, ‘this is what I’m experiencing’, and not, you know, getting stuck in the blame game.” 

Paula pointed out that speaking in absolutes is also a big no-no. “‘You always do this, you never do that’ … just causes people to get their defenses up, and [feel like] they’re being attacked. And that’s not going to be constructive.” 

Fostering constructive communication often starts with creating a safe space. “The space between two people is the relational space, and it’s how they show up for each other every day that co-creates the safety, quality, and health of the relationship,” Paula explained. 

To Rebuild Trust, You Need To Find A Middle Ground 

You can create a safe space by finding a middle ground with your partner. According to Paula, taking the time to get to the nitty-gritty of an issue and finding something you can both agree on can be a path out of conflict. 

“Raise one topic and one issue at a time and deal with it,” she said. “You get to a level where you feel like, ‘Okay, we’ve reached a middle ground, it’s resolved and we can move forward on this.’” And if your goal is to reach a middle ground with your partner so you can rebuild trust, Paula recommended a few ways to make your foundation solid. 

Reconnecting with your partner is a great way to find a solid middle ground. “The best way to reconnect with each other is to be intentional about making time and spending time together,” Paula said. 

its all about how you react to conflict
Conflict, when dealt with securely, can actually make relationships stronger.

Time is a valuable commodity, so sharing yours with your partner is a clear gesture of goodwill. “The best way that we learn, or let our defenses down, is through fun and play,” Paula added. 

Remembering why you fell for your partner in the first place is a great way to see a situation more clearly. Take the time to go out together, do something you both enjoy, and create new, happy memories together. What are you really fighting about? Once you’ve both let off some steam, talk about the issue calmly, clearly, and with compassion. 

In the heat of the moment, a conflict can feel insurmountable. Paula encourages couples to focus on their feelings for each other. “Just because we had an argument doesn’t mean the relationship is over or I don’t love you,” Paula emphasized. 

Your partner, she said, needs to “know that you’re there … relationships do have their ups and downs, there’s no such thing as the perfect relationship. It’s ‘how perfect can you be for each other?’”

Perfection is impossible, but growth isn’t. The garden-variety conflicts that every couple endures can be overcome, so long as each person in the relationship is willing to slow down, speak up, and find a middle ground. “If you don’t ask for what you want, your partner doesn’t know how to be there for you,” Paula reminded us.