Conflict is a given, but the outcome doesn’t always have to be negative. Some of us go to great lengths to avoid conflict and assume the interaction will end poorly. Very few of us grew up with exposure to successful conflict resolution and some witnessed either intense conflict or none at all. Chronic and unresolved conflict can be a source of significant stress and can negatively affect your health. A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol.90, No. 4) found that men are more physiological reactive to conflict than women and men rely more on women to initiate and guide conflict discussions. Based on my clinical experience, men avoid conflict more than women and seek quick solutions to end the conflict discussion.
Unfortunately, conflict doesn’t go away on its own and time doesn’t heal all wounds. In fact, conflict that remains in your head will never be resolved, it needs to reach your lips. Many of my clients internalize, compartmentalize, and rationalize away their conflicts, but they often resurface later. Some people have difficulty sharing the feelings that conflict often triggers. Individuals may lash out to shut down the conflict discussion while others detach. As a result of unresolved conflict in relationships, feelings such as anger, hurt, and resentment build which causes detachment and eventually leads to self-destructive behaviors.
Conflict occurs in all relationships; how you handle it determines its effect. Couples fear that conflict may end their relationship when the reality is that avoiding the conflict is a greater predictor. Recognize that the conflict discussion process is probably more important than the solution you’ve selected. When approaching conflict focus on the goal of compromising rather than winning. Reframe conflict as an opportunity for growth and development. Next week I will discuss other healthy and constructive ways to resolve conflict.