Most people don’t enjoy conflict and arguing, and many view it as a sign of an unhealthy relationship. Yet, conflict and disagreement are a necessary part of a healthy relationship. Obviously, it depends on the manner in which couples fight. Yelling, screaming, and name calling are not a healthy way to proceed through a conflict.
Michael Batshaw, LCSW and author of 51 Things You Should Know Before Getting Married, says “Engaging in conflict isn’t going to end the relationship, it’s avoiding the conflict [that might].” There are many reasons why people avoid conflict in a relationship, but at what cost to our mental health and the relationship’s health?
The problem with brushing issues under rug or stuffing hurt feelings is that they never really go away. Instead, they usually just turn into bigger issues. Michigan relationship expert Teri Orbuch says her almost 24 year research study with couples found that if you don’t the small issues in your relationship, they just evolve into a bigger problem that’s then “really hard to unpack”.
Alternatively, being able to discuss small issues helps address the larger issues that are likely to occur somewhere down the road. Pre-eminent researcher and relationship expert John Gottman says that how often couples fight is not the determining factor in the success of the marriage, but rather how one fights is. Respect turns out be the defining variable, which means as long as couples respect each other during a conflict, fighting is not a threat to the relationship.
Here are four other ways that conflict can be good for your relationship:
- It increases trust. Constructive fighting that respects boundaries but allows both individuals to express themselves can strengthen the relationship and coming through the other side of the argument can increase trust. Knowing that you can argue and have conflict and still be ‘okay’ makes fighting less threatening.
- You will feel better. Expressing your emotions eases anxiety, tension and fear. Some people describe it as ‘a weight being lifted off of their shoulders’. Not only does it make you feel better, it’s also much healthier for you physically.
- Intimacy increases. When your partner fully knows your thoughts, feelings and opinions, where your boundaries are, and what hurts you, this typically breeds a deeper level of intimacy and appreciation in your spouse. Enduring conflict can also be a growth process in which you increase your own self-understanding, in addition to the understanding of your partner.
- It improves your character. If you use conflict as a growth process, it can help you increase patience, care and love, helping you focus on what’s really important. And what’s really important is the happiness and health of your relationship and your partner, as well as yourself.
Though it’s easier said than done, conflict is an opportunity to find a greater love and understanding for your partner. Remembering that in the heat of the moment, and using good conflict resolution skills can be the hard part! If you want a greater understanding of yourself and your partner though, it is important to successfully navigate a conflict and manage strife in your relationship.