From Bickering to Bonding | How to Turn Conflict into a Positive Force in Your Relationship

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When you think about conflict, what pops into your mind? Probably an argument or a disagreement, which is what we initially thought, too! But what if conflict isn’t only an obstacle to happy and healthy romantic relationships, but you could turn them into a positive force? 

Sounds kinda crazy that disagreements could strengthen your bond with your partner, right? It’s actually the opposite of crazy—managed properly, conflicts can equal personal growth, better communication, and more intimacy. Curious? We were, too, so we decided to do some deep digging and find out why conflict, which is an unavoidable part of romantic partnerships, can actually help build stronger connections between you and your significant other!

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How Can Conflict Be Positive in a Relationship?

Conflict is often seen as negative, associated with blowout arguments, fights, or disagreements. Yet, when we reframe how we view conflict in relationships, it shows that managing and resolving conflicts can create growth, trust, and deeper connections among couples. Yes, conflict is stressful and a source of tension, but (and this is a big “but,”) it can also serve as a powerful driver for increasing the overall health of a relationship.

Effectively resolving conflicts is super important for the upkeep and the well-being of a relationship, particularly as differing needs come to light. It offers a chance for partners to gain insights into each other’s perspectives and experiences, helps create solutions to problems, and goes a long way in terms of building stronger, healthier romantic relationships.

Understanding Conflict

Conflict rears its head when two or more individuals have differing fundamental needs at a specific moment in time. It’s important to note that conflict does not necessarily mean a fight or disagreement—rather, in a relationship, conflict stems from different needs—for instance, if one person wants to be left alone for a bit while the other wants affection, this creates a conflict.

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Building Intimacy through Conflict Resolution

By working through any conflicts that arise and understanding each other’s emotions, needs, and perspectives, couples can build up trust and resilience in their relationships. Their intimacy and connection grow not in spite of but as a result of the ways they work together to address the problem.

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The Cycle of Conflict Resolution and Intimacy

Experiencing stress due to conflict is natural, but becoming proficient, even adept in conflict resolution can supercharge intimacy and connectivity. If conflicts go unresolved, they can escalate into larger problems, potentially requiring professional intervention like couples counseling. By consistently being able to recognize the red flag, address, and resolve conflicts, couples strengthen their mutual understanding and increase the stability of their relationship!

Turning Conflict into Growth

When both partners are open to learning and applying certain strategies and skills, relationship conflict can be a great gateway to growth. Here’s how to change conflict into a constructive experience instead of a negative one:

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  • Practicing Nonviolent Communication: Focusing on empathy, understanding, and compassion helps to resolve conflicts by creating a space where both people feel heard and valued.
  • Engaging in Negotiation and Compromise: By negotiating and finding a middle ground, couples can find solutions that satisfy everyone’s needs, which is essential for resolving communication breakdowns.
  • Respecting Boundaries and Prioritizing Self-Care: Understanding and respecting personal boundaries, coupled with emphasizing self-care, enables individuals to clearly express their needs and promotes respect.
  • Cultivating Interdependence: Recognizing and respecting both your own needs and those of your romantic partner promotes a happy and healthy balance—this understanding supports a relationship where closeness does not compromise individuality.

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Personal Development

Conflicts offer up the chance for personal development on a silver platter by allowing individuals to develop new skills, expand their perspectives, and strengthen their relationships. They are also a solid means of helping people identify what their priorities and weaknesses are. You could consider conflict as a mirror being held up to you in real-time—that reflection is showing you your responses to disagreements as well as shedding more light on your underlying desires and fears.

Conflict is basically a fancy word for challenge, and all relationships have those. But if you know how to navigate them, you can get a better grasp of your partner’s beliefs and values while at the same time leveling up your communication skills and developing empathy and understanding for those around you—not just your significant other!

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Improving Communication Skills

Developing strong communication skills in both personal and professional realms can build and increase a better understanding and respect for diverse viewpoints, which means facilitating more effective communication and resolution of conflicts in romantic relationships. Think of your words as a bridge that connects you with your partner—a strongly built, stable bridge that can withstand almost any storm (even a few cracks in the foundation), which means a solid base for successful relationships.

Using inclusive language, such as “we” statements instead of “I” or “you” statements, creates a collaborative atmosphere and helps both partners acknowledge their role in the conflict. For instance, saying, “I have to solve this problem,” might feel isolating and overwhelming. Conversely, “You have to solve this problem” can seem accusatory and non-collaborative. By using “we” statements, both partners are recognized as being part of the solution, and you can collab together to get to a satisfactory resolution.

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Building Intimacy and Trust

Addressing and resolving conflicts strengthens intimacy and trust among partners, which equals a much better emotional connection. Communicating feelings in a respectful and empathetic way helps create a safe space where both partners can freely express their thoughts and needs. This nurturing environment promotes trust and understanding, leading to a better emotional connection and increased intimacy.

Regularly talking about emotions helps both partners become more aware of their own feelings and those of their partner. This awareness means a supportive environment conducive to sharing and understanding each other’s emotional states and needs, further deepening trust and the emotional bond between romantic partners.

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Tried and True Tips for Positive Conflict

So, how can you manage conflict in a way that doesn’t mess up your relationship but turns it into a way to bolster your love?

According to PsychCentral, “The good news is that ‘most fighting comes from skill deficits,’ according to Susan Heitler, Ph.D, a Denver clinical psychologist and author of the book The Power of Two: Secrets of a Strong & Loving Marriage.

Here are some tips to help you handle conflict constructively and effectively so you’ll come out on the other side as a stronger duo!

“But just remember that these are general guidelines,” cautions the experts. “Couples relationships —as all human relationships—are complex and operate at multiple levels with potentially dozens of choice points at any given moment in time,” said Robert Solley, Ph.D, a San Francisco clinical psychologist who specializes in couples therapy.

Work on your active listening skills: “Communication is key to resolving conflict. The bedrock of good communication? Fully listening to your partner without building a case in your head of how your partner is wrong,” Michael Batshaw, LCSW, a New York City-based psychologist who specializes in couples and wrote 51 Things You Should Know Before Getting Engaged and Things You Need to Know Before Getting Married: The Essential Guide to a Successful Marriage.

“Talk when you’re calm. The atmosphere has to stay emotionally safe enough so that both people can put out each of their ideas/feelings/experience about the conflict and then they can have a respectful conversation about it without attachment to who is right or who is wrong,” said Solley.

“Don’t start a conversation if you feel overwhelmed by emotion because it clouds your thinking and distorts things,” Batshaw noted. “You also don’t want to be overly detached. It’s important to think about what you want to say in a thoughtful way.”

If emotions run high, walk away: “Again, it’s vital to be calm while you’re talking about the conflict, but realistically someone is bound to become upset, frustrated or irritated. If you find yourself getting emotional, take a break to calm down. If you can’t calm down, table the discussion for another day,” Batshaw said.

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  • Create boundaries: “Have some boundaries about what is acceptable behavior and what isn’t, [such as] no cursing, no physical interaction, no yelling or screaming,” Batshaw said. “Just like on a soccer field, as soon as people go out of bounds, the play stops,” Heitler added.
  • Start with side-to-side conversations: “In her research, Orbuch found that men are much more likely to be able to communicate more clearly, easily and effectively, when talking about a difficult topic when they’re doing an activity such as walking, biking or hiking.”
  • Apologize: “Orbuch said that an apology can go a long way; We all make mistakes, and we need to acknowledge that we had a part in an argument that [gets] out of hand,” she said. You don’t have to say, ‘I’m sorry I said that,’ but it can be as simple as ‘I’m sorry, we’re fighting.’”
  • Get counseling: “If you’re stuck on a specific conflict or one of you doesn’t want to talk about it, even when pressed, consider seeing a couples therapist,” Batshaw said. “The sooner you get [help], the easier, more cost effective, and the longer you can enjoy a happier relationship together!” Solley said. “These are both efforts to ease short-term pain, but they result in chronic damage to the relationship that builds up to misery and animosity in the long-term.”
  • Address specific behaviors: Michigan relationship expert Terri Orbuch, Ph.D, and the author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great, says to address “specific behaviors rather than personality traits. She said that this is easier to hear for the other person and he or she has a good idea of what to work on.”

Batshaw emphasizes that fearing and avoiding conflict can be detrimental. As previously discussed, he points out that shying away from conflict can lead to bigger—and worse—issues in relationships. 

“John Gottman’s research shows that about two-thirds of a couple’s problems actually never go away. In successful couples the difference is that they learn to talk about the problems in a flexible and considerate way, with perspective and without blaming each other for their differences,” said Solley.

Final Thoughts

Instead of seeing conflicts as formidable foes in relationships, you should look at them as instruments for development and growth—provided they are approached with understanding, empathy, and good communication. Conflicts do not automatically mean there are defects or failures within a romantic relationship; they just mean you have different needs at different times, and they are pretty much unavoidable with couples.
When you engage in conflict calmly and with effective strategies, you are showing you are ready to negotiate equitably and take care of each other’s needs—and that’s how you can turn conflict into a positive force. Don’t shrink away from conflicts, and the next time you and your SO get into it, think about it from another angle: an opportunity to learn, evolve, and actually make your relationship stronger. That’s how you can make conflict work for you.

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