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Are There Benefits to Conflicts in Relationships?

Amanda Ann Gregory, LCPC, EMDR Certified 

Couples and family therapists have told me that the couples and families that they worry about the most are the ones that engage in little to no conflict. This may sound surprising, but it’s not if you consider the fact that conflict is a necessary and healthy part of all relationships. All relationships need conflict in order to healthily grow and remain strong. Here are a few of the benefits of experiencing conflicts in relationships: 

Establishes Safety 

Conflict can create experiences that promote safety in relationships. If conflicts are initiated and managed in a healthy way, this can create an environment in which people feel comfortable engaging in conflict with one another. For example, Ethan leaves his dishes in the sink for his partner, Tony, to put in the dishwasher. They have spoken about this before, yet nothing has changed. One day, Ethan calmly but firmly tells Tony how his actions have negatively impacted him and their relationship. Ethan encourages Tony to explore methods that would help him remember to put the dishes in the dishwasher. This is an example of Ethan initiating and managing conflict in a healthy way, which can help  Tony feel safe to discuss similar conflicts and initiate conflict resolution in the future. 

Builds Trust

Conflict can promote communication and honesty, which build trust. On the other hand, avoiding conflicts can lead to a decline in communication and repression of issues that need to be addressed, which inhibits trust. For example, Ethan could ignore Tony’s actions in order to avoid an argument. Yet, this would be dishonest. Although Ethan has told Tony to put the dishes in the sink, he has never told him how his actions have negatively impacted him and their relationship. He’s not giving Tony the information that he needs in order to decide whether he is going to take steps to change. Honesty and communication can cause conflicts, and those conflicts can help build and maintain trust in a relationship. 

Promotes Attachment 

Conflict is an essential part of secure attachment. If we do not have conflict in our relationships, we do not have the opportunity to repair any rifts or infractions that may occur in our relationships. Such infractions can be rather minor  (such as one person not putting the dishes in the dishwater), or they might be larger transgressions. No matter their severity, rifts or disagreements naturally occur in all relationships and need to be addressed. If they are not, they tend to add up and fester. Imagine that  Ethan ignored Tony’s misbehavior, and then one day he sees dishes in the sink and threatens to end the relationship. This could happen when an issue in a relationship goes unresolved for quite some time. When rifts or disagreements in our relationships are acknowledged and resolved,  it paves the way for stronger, securer connections and attachments. 

Provides Opportunities for Co-Regulation

Co-regulation is a term often used when referring to parental relationships, yet it’s also a part of healthy conflicts in adult relationships as well. Co-regulation is when one person is able to help regulate another person’s emotions and actions until that person is able to regulate their own emotions and actions themselves. This dynamic can happen when one person is able to regulate themselves during the conflict, attune to the other’s arousal, and respond effectively to the other’s emotional needs. For example, if Tony expressed agitation during the conflict, Ethan might remain calm, provide Tony with validation and reassurance, and offer physical touch. The goal is to help regulate Tony’s emotions while engaging in productive conflict. 

Co-regulation can be a positive and necessary dynamic for those who have experienced relational trauma. Many people have had experiences in which conflict does not feel safe. As a result, these people may not know how to initiate or manage conflict in a healthy manner. They may also avoid conflict altogether. Co-regulation provided by another can equip trauma survivors to participate in and experience the benefits of productive conflict. 

Do you need help initiating or managing conflict in your relationships? If so, consider participating in couples therapy, family therapy, or individual therapy at Symmetry Counseling. Explore our counseling services online, and contact us to start therapy in Chicago today!

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