The Truth About Conflict in Relationships


It seems like people are always vying to get rid of conflict in marriage. I know I, for one, would love to be done with it and live happily ever after.

Here's an interesting vantage point on that though, that has been stomach-punching food for thought for me lately: That conflict is good for a marriage. Wha?!

Of course there's a caveat...conflict is good when it's done right. Like I've mentioned already, I've been reading up on relationships quite a bit lately, now that Michael and I are a year into our wedded bliss. And I've read some interesting insights and statistics on the subject:

Why Conflict is Healthy for a Marriage
"Marriage researcher John Gottman has a fascinating theory about conflict," Tara Parker-Pope writes in For Better, a book I recently reviewed that shows what research and scientific study has to say about what makes marriages work best. "He believes a certain amount of conflict is necessary to help couples 'weed out' problems that can harm a marriage in the long run. In his own research, he discovered that the 'temporary misery' of conflict can be healthier long-term for a marriage. He checked in with couples early in their relationship, finding that peaceful couples reported more marital happiness than couples who bickered. But three years later the peaceful couples were far more likely to be headed for divorce or already divorced. The bickering couples, meanwhile, had worked out the kinks in their relationships and were more likely to be in stable relationships."

Healthy Ways to Deal with Conflict
It's not how often or what you fight about, even that matters, Parker-Pope has found according to research. It's how you fight about it that is going to bolster or burn your relationship. In fact, the first three minutes of a conflict are the most pivotal because it's here that the stage is set. Will the argument start out respectfully and gently, or harsh and full of criticism?

Couples must learn to present their problems in terms of complaints vs. criticism from the outset of the argument. Such as, "I was upset last night when I came home and the dishes were in the sink and the floor wasn't swept," vs. "Why can't you do the dishes and clean up after the kids?" Criticism places blame and can lean towards contempt, which is hugely debilitating to marriage. (Studies have also found that eye-rolling is the single most important facial expression and is "a powerful predictor that your relationship is in serious trouble," because it, too, belies contempt.)

Conflict Won’t Disappear Any Time Soon
Parker-Pope also noted that, according to studies, the conflicts that arise between couples are never resolved 70% of the time. "In one study, couples who were tracked for a decade were still fighting about the same things they had been arguing about ten years earlier."

So it makes sense that I should be reading about conflict and how to best wield it, since it's likely that it'll never fully disappear. No matter how much I wish it would!

Related Posts
Complete Review of "For Better"
The Power of Words in Marriage: 5 Ideas to Encourage Your Husband


  1. Fightin's is gonna happen! I bloggered about it, too:

    Found ya over at Reagan's Blob - love your "blessons" title!

  2. YOU read Reagan's Blog!?!?! I LOVE Reagan's Blog and I love me some Pippy Pip! :) Oh. Wow. This post quite possibly saved my marriage (haha). When we were on vacation...we "fought" like brother and sister. Like I literally thought one of us was going to say, "YOU started it..." Haha...we kept having to look at each other and say, "Ok. No more cats and dogs." (as in fighting like...) I think it was a combination of "vacation nerves" and exhaustion (although we had a good time anyway). Basically, I LOVED this post. It makes me feel good to think that we are helping our marriage by 'weeding out' the problems like you said. Tim and I have agreed that sometimes 'conflict' is just sort of like exercise...if we were agreeing on EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME then the relationship "muscles" would get boring and lazy. :) Great post!

  3. @ Holly - Haha, yes, I do read Reagan's blob! I just came across it a couple months ago. To think, not only could we be looking at the same night stars but we could also be reading the same blog at the same time. Creepy, huh? ;)

  4. I loved this post! (Found you on 20SB, btw.) I grew up thinking conflict was a terrible thing, b/c my parents never resolved anything. The day I realized it had the potential to be a productive tool, my husband and I never looked back. I'm no longer afraid to approach issues, and now realize that as long as there is resolution in sight, it can actually be a blessing.

  5. @ Meg - Yes! I think it's such an eye-opener and relief, although I'm personally still learning my way around it myself, as I'm one of those people who hates conflict! It's still a little scary for me :)


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