Conflict is expected in a relationship. People are going to disagree. You and your partner were raised in different families. Perhaps you each come from different geographic parts of the world. It is possible that you might have different religious and political views. Most couples are different genders, which leads to differences of opinion. But even same-sex couples don’t always see eye to eye. Conflict arises easily when two people have opposing needs, wishes, or goals. Additionally, each person expresses those needs differently.
For example, Dr. Jamie Turndorf, in her book, Kiss Your Fights Good-bye, identifies several different causes for conflict. In her book she provides 10 simple steps to cooling conflict and rekindling relationships. As you go through the following list of conflict causes, you might find several of them to be familiar.
Lack of follow through
Lack of initiative
Selfishness or lack of cooperation
You never listen to me
You’re shutting me out
Now here is an interesting fact: Happy couples fight about the same things as unhappy couples do. That’s right, this grievance list is a natural part of being a couple, no matter who you are. The difference is that happy couples figure out how to resolve the conflicts on this list. They reach conclusions. In contrast, unhappy couples return to the same fight endlessly, repeating the same battles because they never reach closure on how to solve an issue.
John Gottman is a researcher in marital stability. He developed multiple models, scales, and formulas to predict divorce in couples.
According to one reviewer of this research,1 Gottman reveals a shocking truth about marital conflict:
“‘Most marital arguments cannot be resolved.’
His research found that 69% of conflicts involve such perpetual or unresolvable problems. For example, Meg wants to have children, but Donald does not. Walter always wants more sex than Dana does. Chris always flirts at parties, and Susan hates it. John wants to bring the kids up Catholic, Linda wants to raise them Jewish.
Couples spend years and huge amounts of energy trying to change the other person, but significant disagreements are about values and different ways of seeing the world – things that don’t change. The successful couple knows this and attempts to live with or incorporate the conflict nevertheless.
When people feel judged, misunderstood or criticized there is no chance at all that they will change. If you can still try to accept the other person’s position, the problem can be managed. Even if you can’t resolve all your issues, when you can accept your partner ‘warts and all’ you will have a good marriage.”
How many of the above conflict areas were you able to identify? And are they areas that keep resurfacing? If your answer was yes to the second question then you might be at relationship risk. Don’t wait until it’s too late to learn some better ways to deal with conflict so it doesn’t become a relationship killer.
1. Source: Tom Butler-Bowdon. 50 Psychology Classics: Who We Are, How We Think, What We Do. Insight and Inspiration from 50 Key Books. London & Boston: Nicholas Brealey.