Arguing and Conflict

What Is Relationship Conflict?

You can experience conflict in any type of relationship you have, be it with your partner, parent, sibling, child, friend, or even a co-worker. Relationship conflict is a disagreement between people (e.g., partners, friends, siblings, or co-workers). The root of the conflict might be something like a difference of opinion, experience, taste, perspective, personality, or beliefs.

Conflict is generally intense enough to disrupt some aspect of the relationship, such as communication, which is what differentiates it from simply having a different point of view. It’s not just romantic partners who can experience relationship conflict—families can also be in conflict.

Whether it’s open debate over dinner or an underlying feeling of discomfort that remains unspoken, family conflict can cause a significant amount of stress. It might be that there’s no lack of love between members, but rather, a lack of comfort in dealing with conflict.

When conflict is not productive or healthy, it can be harmful to everyone involved. Sustained, unresolved conflict can create tension at home or at work, can erode the strength and satisfaction of relationships, and can even make people feel physically sick or in pain.

Unacknowledged Conflict

Conflict is inevitable. Relationships in which people “never fight” are not always as blissful as they seem. When anger is suppressed or unacknowledged by partners or family members, it can actually be unhealthy.

The way you approach and resolve conflict can influence the health of all your relationships, be it with a spouse, parent, friend, co-worker, or child.

Research has found that in couples where one partner habitually suppressed anger, both partners tended to die younger. On the other hand, acknowledging and effectively resolving conflict can be a pathway to greater understanding between two people, bringing them closer.

Coping With Relationship Conflict

Effective communication is perhaps the most important skill for addressing conflict and stress in a relationship. If you are having a hard time developing this skill, or if the conflict in your relationship is extreme, couples counselling might be useful.

You and your partner might also benefit from individual therapy. A mental health professional (whether online or in-person) can give you both the tools you need to effectively handle conflict.

If your partner or family member with whom you are in conflict does not wish to pursue therapy, either on their own or with you, you might still find it helpful to pursue on your own. One modality that many people find useful is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) 

CBT can help you figure out what’s behind the conflict in your relationship, improve your conflict resolution skills, and offer strategies for managing the negative feelings that might emerge when you are feeling stressed or hurt.