Relationship Conflict


Unfortunately conflict within most relationships is inevitable, and is a pervasive part of human life.


However, not all conflict needs to be entirely negative – the issues itself are more often than not negative – that is agreed - yes, but in fact if couples learnt how to manage the conflict or negative situations or issues they experience – coming through the conflict could actually strengthen a relationship.


Tillet (2005) explains, “That conflict can, however, promote new ideas, encourage better understanding, strengthen personal relationships, stimulate individual growth, and facilitate more effective solutions to problems” (p.1)


It is therefore, how conflict is dealt with that turns conflict or negative issues into ones that are pervasive and eat away at the good in our relationships rather than add or strengthen the relationship.


Research has shown that much of that adds to conflict exists in the mind. Conflict when experienced negatively – is usually seen as: destructive, unpleasant and undesirable. More often than not, conflict provokes negative responses, which can have detrimental effects on the individual, on relationships, and on groups.


Relationship Conflict



What Does Conflict Do?

Most of the time conflict beaks down communication, destroys relationships (with long-term negative effects on not just the individuals experiencing the conflict, but more often than not has a ripple effect affecting other peoples lives for years to come), destroys lives, increases problems beyond the ones they originated with and erects barriers that can take years if ever to tear down.


How Is Conflict Mostly Dealt With?

  • Avoided

  • Suppressed

  • Concealed or

  • Fought Over


How Is Relationship Conflict Started (precipitated) and Maintained (perpetuated)?

Relationship Conflict can stem from a wide variety of issues relating to a difference in expectations, a difference in standards, different value-systems, being non-compatible, using negative communication styles (passive, passive-aggressive or aggressive), not growing together in the relationship and maintaining an understanding of each others needs and desires.


Much of the time, conflict can develop insidiously – thus it can grow and grow until it can feel like you just cannot see eye to eye any more. What is imperative couples be aware of – are four of the most damaging components of conflict precipitation and conflict maintenance and can more often than not if not attended to – lead to the demise of relationship:

  • Criticism

  • Speaking with contempt

  • Denial: Not taking responsibility for you went wrong in the conflict

  • Stonewalling: When conflict arises – a partner will either walk away, stop-speaking, and just stop engaging when they decide it’s over, existing in silence

  • Obsessive Reasoning: – refusing to listen and absorb and understand the view of the other party. Staying ‘on point’ of where they stand and thus refusing to try to empathise with the other parties feelings or perspective.


If you are experiencing conflict in your relationship – it would be extremely advisable to see Couple Counselling as Conflict management and resolution are extremely important skills to have to address conflict when it arises. Unfortunately, no one can promise that negative situations or issues will never arise, however how you manage conflict can be the key to a very successful and positive marriage.





Author: Michelle Barratt

           Clinical Psychologist





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Michelle Barratt is a Fellow of the Clinical College at the Australian Psychological Society.