The truth about relationship conflict: How conflict can be good for your relationship


“When I fight with you, I’m really fighting for us. If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t bother.” -Carson Kolhoff

The word “conflict” has a bad reputation. If you hear that two people in a relationship are always disagreeing (the core of conflict), you might jump to the conclusion they have a poor partnership. In reality, they may have a very healthy relationship and be better off than couples who are constantly in agreement and never raise concerns with each other. It’s time we look at the benefits of conflict.

Imagine your significant other has the magical power to make the entire house dirty in minutes. At first, you don’t mention that it bothers you because you don’t want to upset him. Over the last few months, your place has gotten progressively messier. If you’re planning to break up with him, you may decide not to mention how much you hate the mess. The problem won’t matter soon enough.

However, if this is a serious relationship that you want to last, it’s a good idea to bring the issue up. If you simply call your boyfriend a slob, you’re likely to hurt his feelings and make him feel as if you don’t care about your partnership. But if you explain how you see a future with him and would enjoy working together to figure out a way both of you can have the house at a comfortable level of cleanliness, now you’ve shown your dedication to your relationship. When conflicts are discussed properly, the conversations reinforce your commitment to each other and strengthen your problem-solving skills.

Making sure both parties feel understood is the key to discussing a conflict. In 2016, researchers Amie M. Gordon and Serena Chen conducted various studies at the University of California about conflicts in relationships. According to Gordon, “People who reported fighting frequently in their relationship but reported feeling understood by their partners were no less satisfied with their relationships than people who rarely fight.” Even more interestingly, she discovered that couples who felt the other could see from their perspective, “felt more satisfied after discussing a source of conflict in their relationship than when they’d first arrived in the lab.” Sometimes, it can seem as if our significant other doesn’t understand our point of view, or worse, is purposely trying to upset us. Diving into the problem is the only way to discover each other’s real motivations. If there were no conflict in our relationships, we would miss out on valuable insights about how our partners think.

Relationships without conflict aren’t very close relationships. Conflict shows that you care and resolving problems together shows that you understand each other and have the skills to find a solution. Rather than letting tensions build and hoping disagreements will solve themselves (hint, they won’t!), it’s better to embrace the conflict in your relationships. Perhaps psychologist Michael Batshaw summed it up best when he declared, “Engaging in conflict isn’t going to end the relationship, it’s avoiding the conflict [that might].”

Gordon, A. M. (2016, September 15). 7 Ways to Make Conflict Healthy. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/between-you-and-me/201609/7-ways-make-conflict-healthy

Carlos Todd, PhD


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