In our journey through the Developmental Model of Couples Therapy, we’ve explored the four key stages that couples navigate in their relationship: Bonding, Differentiating, Practicing, and Rapprochement. Now, let’s take a closer look at how this model can be applied to processing fights and assessing conflict resolution skills. Disagreements are a natural part of any relationship, but the way couples handle these challenges can make all the difference in fostering a strong, healthy partnership.

Processing fights through a developmental lens

The way a couple approaches processing a fight or conflict can look quite different depending on which developmental stage they are currently in. Here are some examples:

In the Bonding stage, couples may avoid addressing conflicts directly to maintain harmony and closeness. After a disagreement, one partner might say, “Let’s just forget about it. It wasn’t that big of a deal.”

In the Differentiating stage, as partners become more aware of their individual needs, they may be more inclined to point fingers and assign blame. For instance, “You’re always so defensive and unwilling to listen to my side.”

Couples in the Practicing stage are better equipped to approach conflicts with vulnerability and empathy, taking turns expressing feelings without criticism: “I felt hurt when you dismissed my concerns about our finances.”

After all, disagreements are inevitable in any relationship, but it’s how you navigate them that determines the strength and depth of your bond.

At the Rapprochement stage, partners view conflicts as opportunities for growth and deeper connection. After a disagreement, they might reflect together: “It seems like we both want to feel heard and understood. What if we tried setting aside weekly time to discuss concerns?”

The benefits of processing fights

Regardless of which developmental stage you’re in, taking the time to process fights after the heat of the moment can provide significant benefits:

  1. Gaining clarity and understanding about the root causes and underlying issues.
  2. Identifying recurring patterns and unresolved concerns to be addressed.
  3. Developing crucial emotional intelligence skills like self-awareness, empathy, and effective communication.
  4. Practicing repair and reconnection after feeling disconnected during the conflict.
  5. Reinforcing your commitment to growth as a couple.
  6. Modeling healthy conflict resolution for any children, teaching them invaluable life skills.

In essence, processing fights constructively allows you to transform conflicts from sources of resentment into catalysts for growth and intimacy.

Assessing your conflict resolution skills

To facilitate open and honest conversations about your conflict resolution abilities, take some time individually to reflect on these 12 statements and rate yourself on a scale of 1-10:

  1. I expressed my feelings and needs without blaming or criticizing my partner.
  2. I listened to my partner’s perspective without interrupting or becoming defensive.
  3. I took responsibility for my role, rather than placing all blame on my partner.
  4. I managed my emotions well and avoided escalating the situation.
  5. I approached the conflict with curiosity, aiming to understand my partner’s experience.
  6. I communicated my boundaries while respecting my partner’s boundaries.
  7. I acknowledged and validated my partner’s feelings, even if I disagreed.
  8. I avoided contemptuous or dismissive language toward my partner.
  9. I remained engaged in the conversation instead of withdrawing.
  10. I was open to finding a mutually acceptable compromise.
  11. I practiced self-soothing techniques to manage my emotional reactivity.
  12. I saw the conflict as an opportunity to learn and deepen our understanding.

Discuss your ratings with each other and identify areas where one or both of you could use some improvement. This open and honest dialogue is crucial for developing conflict resolution skills as a couple.

“It seems like we both want to feel heard and understood. What if we tried setting aside weekly time to discuss concerns?”

Assessing your conflict resolution skills

Beyond self-assessment, here are some key strategies for processing fights in a productive manner:

  • Cultivate a safe, non-judgmental space for open communication using “I” statements and avoiding blame.
  • Practice active listening by paraphrasing what your partner says to ensure understanding.
  • Express empathy and validation for your partner’s perspective, even if you disagree.
  • Look for common ground and shared needs underneath the surface disagreement.
  • Be willing to take breaks if tensions escalate, returning to the discussion later with cooler heads.
  • Approach conflicts with a growth mindset, seeing them as opportunities to learn and evolve together.

The journey toward deeper emotional intimacy and fulfillment is rarely smooth, but by embracing the principles of the Developmental Model and committing to constructive conflict resolution, you can navigate life’s inevitable challenges as a united front.

Remember, a couple’s ability to process fights and disagreements with empathy, vulnerability, and a shared commitment to growth is what defines the healthiest of relationships. It’s not about being conflict-free, but about weathering the storms together and emerging closer and more connected.

I encourage you to refer back to these posts whenever you find yourself struggling to process a fight productively. The path may not always be easy, but the rewards of a deeper, more resilient partnership make the journey worthwhile.


The Developmental Model provides a framework for understanding how couples process fights differently depending on their current stage. By assessing conflict resolution skills, practicing active listening, expressing empathy, and approaching disagreements with a growth mindset, couples can transform conflicts into opportunities for deeper understanding and connection. Though the journey may not always be easy, committing to constructive conflict resolution can lead to a more resilient and fulfilling relationship.