Relationship Conflict


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In any type of interpersonal relationship, from time to time we run across issues and circumstances that create conflict.  Conflict itself is not the doom of a relationship, and can even make a relationship stronger when handled appropriately.  Pierce (2009) states, “An important component of building a healthy relationship is a strategy for healthy conflict resolution” (p. 61).  Conflict may be the result of differences in opinion, incompatible wants and needs, and unmet expectations.

We often have expectations for other people that we interact with, such as how we believe a person will (or ought to) behave, and these expectations often turn into what is called the self-fulfilling prophecy (an incident occurring because we believe it will).  Reis and his colleagues (2000) explain that this occurs by our expectations influencing our own behavior, which then affects the other person’s behavior accordingly and our expectations are confirmed and reinforced.  Sometimes, when others do not behave in ways we expect or believe they should, this can cause conflict within the relationship.

Our personal perceptions are often the source of misunderstanding and conflict within personal relationships.  How we perceive that others should behave or the intentions behind the actions of others can affect how we respond in turn.  What we must take into consideration is that individuals have their own repertoire of influences that have stored up over their entire lifetimes to cause them to think, behave, and perceive things the way they do, just as you do.  It is important to get an accurate understanding of how a person truly feels or what his or her intentions truly are before we jump to our own conclusions and become angry, disappointed, frustrated, argumentative, and so on.

Conflict within our close personal relationships often takes a toll on us and the relationship itself.  However, Anderson (2005) states that conflict can either be productive or destructive.

  • Productive: Parties listen to each other’s perspectives, empathize with each other, and solutions are found through negotiation and collaboration.
  • Destructive: Issues are left unresolved, one party exerts coercion or dominance over the other, parties act on impulses of anger.
Dr. John Gottman (1994), one of the leading researchers on relationships, provides the four most predictive characteristics of a relationship doomed to fail in his bestselling book on why marriages and other romantic relationships succeed or fail.  These are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.
  • Criticism involves attacking someone’s character or personality, usually in the attempt to make someone right and someone wrong.
  • Contempt is an emotional mixture of anger and disgust and regards the other person as inferior or worthless.
  • Defensiveness occurs when an individual attempts to defend him or herself from a perceived attack and often involves placing blame on others while failing to take personal responsibility.
  • Stonewalling involves withdrawing from the interaction and closing oneself off from another.

The key to productively resolving conflict in relationships is to always maintain respect and consideration for the other parties.  Try to see the situation from other perspectives and not just your own, and be willing to compromise when needed.

Set Your Goals
If you feel like you need help building new strategies for managing conflict within your own personal relationships, contact me today to Schedule a FREE Consultation.  I am here to help individuals improve personal relationships in a confidential and nonjudgmental setting and am committed to helping clients set specific goals to see measurable results.


Anderson, E. W. (2005). ABCs of conflict and disaster: Approaches to conflict resolution. British Medical Journal, 331(7512), 344-346.

Gottman, J. M. (1994). Why marriages succeed or fail: And how you can make yours last. New York, NY: Fireside.

Pierce, K. (2009). Healthy conflict resolution. Physician executive, 35(1), 60-61.

Reis, H. T., Collins, W. A., & Berscheid, E. (2000). The relationship context of human behavior and development. Psychological Bulletin, 126(6), 844-872.

About Nicky

Book Lover, author, aunt, and dog mom.
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