Conflict and relationships

Published in Blog by Tavistock Relationships on July 11th 2023

All couples argue and have disagreements from time to time. Or rather, all healthy couples do. It’s normal and natural in fact for people in a relationship not to see eye to eye with each other the whole time, and for this to express itself as conflict.

But conflict that is persistent, ongoing and never leads to any resolution is a sign that something is not going well in your relationship. This kind of conflict is also particularly worrying if there are children involved, as frequent, intense and poorly resolved conflict can have a significant and harmful impact on their mental health and general wellbeing.

What causes conflict in relationships

Common reasons couples experience conflict include:

  • Finances
  • Differences in parenting styles
  • Insecurity
  • Imbalance in household/family responsibilities
  • Lack of independence
  • Lack of intimacy
  • Jealousy
  • Trust issues
  • Poor communication

While it's normal for problems to crop up occasionally, having arguments about every conceivable matter could be a red flag that there's a deeper problem at play.

While it's normal for problems to crop up occasionally, having arguments about every conceivable matter could be a red flag that there's a deeper problem at play.

Unresolved conflict

Experiencing conflict is one thing. But exacerbating the issues involved is quite another. Many couples don't know how to fix their problem and inadvertently add fuel to the fire by:

- Getting defensive

You may become defensive if you're struggling to be objective or feel attacked. A side-effect of being defensive usually includes refusing to see the other person's point of view or denying any wrongdoing in the situation. Defensive behaviour can prolong the issue and leave the other person feeling insignificant and unheard.

- Avoiding conflict

Not knowing how to deal with conflict often leads people to avoid it altogether. Being avoidant can manifest itself in various ways, from being quiet and saying nothing to avoiding the other person as much as possible to avoid an explosion. The problem with these strategies is that, eventually, everyone has a breaking point, and the result may be far more hurtful or damaging to your partner than dealing with the issues head-on.

- The black-and-white approach

Relationships are about give and take, but conflicts can lead to a black-and-white view of issues that crop up in some situations. This usually presents itself as one or both parties insisting that their way is right and that there is no in-between. Being unable, or unwilling, to understand the other’s perspective can leave one partner feeling inconsequential, unheard and rejected.

- Stonewalling

Stonewalling is a way of outright ignoring the other person when they've upset you. It can take various forms, including being silent and not responding to messages, calls, or face-to-face contact when a conflict is brewing or in full swing.

- Character attacks and undermining

Attacking someone's character or undermining them is often a defence mechanism designed to get someone to back off. In most instances, this involves bringing up a person's flaws.

- Casting blame

Sometimes, it can seem easier to criticise or blame others for the situation. For many people, admitting fault is a form of weakness, and it can be hard to move past this way of thinking.

- Generalising

Making sweeping generalisations can exacerbate a conflict. You may find that you or your partner make sweeping statements like “You never do…” or “You always….”. This can be paired with past conflicts that can cause further upset.

Getting help

Consistent conflict in a relationship can affect people both emotionally and physically. For example through compromising the immune system, or causing headaches, insomnia, anxiety, depression and digestive issues.

Seeking to resolve conflict in a relationship is a way of trying to save the relationship and preserve what you and your partner have worked hard to build.

Seeking to resolve conflict in a relationship is a way of trying to save the relationship and preserve what you and your partner have worked hard to build.

Speaking to a professional relationship counsellor or therapist can help you and your partner better understand the issues that are causing the conflict in your relationship, and can provide you with the best possible chance to find a better way to negotiate and resolve your differences.

Share this with friends and colleagues

Come to one of our Open Events

If you'd like to know more about counselling and psychotherapy courses or a career in counselling, come to one of our open events and learn more.

Book your place

Invalid Input
Invalid Input
Invalid Input
Please choose an option
Invalid Input
Invalid Input