Conflict: The Secret Ingredient for Healthy Relationships 

As a Psychotherapist and Relationship Coach in Private Practice, I constantly hear couples proudly tell me that they don’t fight. They genuinely believe that because they’re not fighting at all, that means that their relationship is good. And yes, that makes absolute sense to me because of the belief that fighting in a relationship is a bad thing. And while I agree with that belief, and it’s true that truly healthy couples don’t fight, it’s not quite as clear cut as most people think.

Just because you don’t fight in an obvious way in your relationship, that doesn’t mean that your relationship is good. In fact, it can actually mean the opposite of that. That’s because there’s a difference between avoiding fighting—and not fighting because you’re a healthy couple.

The couples who turn up on my couch and proudly tell me they don’t fight are typically conflict avoiders. The real reason they don’t fight is because they do anything they can to avoid dealing with issues. And believe me, this is the opposite of healthy. So just because you’re not fighting in an obvious way in your marriage (or your relationship), that definitely doesn’t mean that your relationship is good or healthy.

Just because you don't fight, doesn't mean that your relationship is healthy

Now as I said, I agree with the belief that healthy couples don’t fight.  My past clients are testament to this. But the reason they don’t fight isn’t because they avoid dealing with their conflict or their issues. It’s actually the very opposite of that.

Healthy couples don’t fight because they’re absolutely willing and able to deal directly with any issues that come up in their relationship. And because they’ve learned how to do that, they know how to work through any different opinion or ideas they might have without fighting. In a nutshell: they face their conflict and issues head-on and work through them, rather than going around them or avoiding them.

So if you want to become a healthy couple, then you need to be willing to risk dealing with any conflict that arises, but in a healthy way. You definitely don’t do that by avoiding conflict and avoiding fighting.

The only way out of the mud... is through the mud

That’s why I say that conflict is the secret ingredient to a healthy relationship. It’s not that you want to create conflict. Not at all. But it’s about being willing to deal directly  with conflict. And believe me those couples who tell me that they don’t fight, are typically doing everything they can to NOT deal with their conflict, rather than face it openly and directly. And that's why they turned up on my couch in the first place.

Before we press on, let me make a quick disclaimer:

When I say conflict, I’m definitely NOT talking about abuse, violence or rage...

If you’re in a relationship where either you or your partner have become violent and thrown or damaged property, or lashed out at each other in rage, then you need to find a good couple Psychotherapist to help you work through it.  If you can’t find one, or if you want to work with me, you can do that too, no matter where you are in the world (via Zoom or Skype).

But let me be perfectly clear: any type of violence and rage is not okay at any time… and no matter how small it appears, or how much you tell yourself that you, or your partner, didn’t mean it… and no matter how much you believe that it won’t happen again, you need to deal with it directly and soon. Because the truth is that, statistics show us that unless you deal with the underlying issues directly, even small amounts of rage, such as throwing things, can lead to even more violence, rage, shame, break-ups and lots of regret. So if you’ve experienced that in your relationship, find some help right now. Please!

Now, back to why I believe that dealing effectively with conflict is a crucial part of any growing relationship.

There are countless reasons why people don’t argue in a relationship. When we begin a relationship we want everything to go smoothly. We want to be “happy” and for our lover to be happy and for everything to be nice and good. And for the first few months (or even up to the first few years) we can experience a “honeymoon period” when everything actually feels like that.

But eventually, you, or they, will say or do something that the other disagrees with. This is absolutely normal. It’s natural for two people in a relationship to have different ideas, expectations, values and priorities. After all, you and your partner have both had different experiences of life and different upbringings, so this makes absolute sense…

But because of the “happily ever after” pressure in our society and the fear of breaking up, rather than saying anything that could create a fight, you might find yourself holding back to avoid conflict. And while on the surface this might appear to work, it won’t work for the long-term. Just because you and your partner might not be outwardly fighting in that moment, that won’t necessarily be how each of you feels inside.Inside there might be feelings of resentment and frustration building up. And these will grow stronger with every little thing that you or your partner feel you have to hold back about.

And believe me, holding back and avoiding conflict is one of the worst things you can do in your relationship, because it typically leads to bigger fights and arguments down the track. Because just like that saying: “the straw that broke the camel’s back”, it might work for a while, but there will come a time when that frustration will grow so much that one of you won't be able to hold back any longer. And then BAM... it will be on--a major argument or fight.

So if you're avoiding conflict in order to try to stop fighting in your relationship, you definitely want to change that, because avoiding conflict is definitely not the path to a healthy relationship. The trick is to face any issues and use the conflict that arises in your relationship in a healthy way to help you work through things properly. And that's why conflict really is the secret ingredient for a healthy relationship. Because if you face it directly and use it will, your relationship will grow and prosper and, ironically, you won't need to fight at all.

Let me know what you think in the comments below. Do you think you and/or your partner do things to avoid fighting in your relationship? Can you see that I’s not by avoiding conflict, but by using any issues and conflict that arises in a healthy way that is important?  How do you deal with conflict in your relationship?

About Paul McNiff

Paul McNiff is a Counsellor and Psychotherapist who specialises in helping people overcome anxiety and make their relationships amazing! Paul works with couples and individuals both in-person and online in Brisbane, and also works with people throughout Australia and globally via Skype, Zoom, FaceTime and phone. His passion is helping people to completely overcome the blocks and habits that hold them back in their lives, so they can take back their power and experience freedom, joy, and a true sense of happiness.

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  1. I would not have thought about conflict this way. I really try to avoid fighting with my boyfriend so he doesn’t get angry with me and we stay happy. But I know there are things we don’t talk about and they get in the way. I always believed that if you fight a lot then you mustn’t be with the right person. Your article really makes sense to me.This has made me rethink conflict. I’m still a bit worried that talking about the hard stuff won’t go so well. How do I start those conversations?

  2. I enjoyed reading your article. I really didn’t think of conflict as that. I thought that if I kept how I feel inside and make sure I work on doing the things to make him happy. I realize that I can’t hold things back and let them get trapped in until it’s time for them to explode. I will look at my relationship as resolve and conquer every issue as it arises just to improve what we already have together. I appreciate the insight and I look forward to reading more articles.

    1. Hey Tanesha, thanks for your comment. Yes, it’s really important to deal with things directly, rather than letting them simmer under the surface, only to explode later on. So it’s great you’re going to focus on that. But be careful about how you do deal with things, because sometimes trying to address issues in the relationship can backfire and create even more resentment and problems. So let me know how you go. And keep an eye out for my book, which is currently being edited and should hopefully be available in the next month or so, because in it I outline a strategy about exactly how to change your approach so you can easily deal with issues, without creating more problems. I look forward to hearing how you go, Paul

  3. Okay but lately it’s been too much fighting so I am walking on eggshells, just to get through this phase :/ enough is enough, I want some peace and quite, I want him to tell me nicely what bugs him, instead it being blown up out of proportion and result in a fight..
    I am definitely someone who doesn’t always says what is bugging her, in this relationship I have already learned otherwise (to tell my point of view anyway, even when I know he won’t like it), but at the moment there just is no room for my anger, his anger takes up all the space there is for angry feelings.. (he’s angry with our current living conditions, we move in a week or two, so I can only hope that he’s back to normal after that, because I am getting fed up with this :/ )
    My point of view is: I get it, you don’t like living here, I get it, we are almost moving.. chillax, but obviously I cannot tell him this because that response would make it worse :/ so he’s stressed and working it out on me, which gets me stressed :/
    In the end I am now trying to avoid all conflict, but nothing I do is good, so this too is impossible :/

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