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Relationship conflict

From the Field

Is conflict bad for relationships?

HPRC's Answer

In all relationships, conflict management is often a key ingredient for success. However, the old belief that the best relationships are those without conflict is being replaced with the new understanding that conflict is normal in intimate relationships. The happiest couples, we have come to find out, are those who manage conflict without being destructive to each other.

Interestingly, research of couples problems over time shows that 31 percent of the problems couples deal with are solvable, and 69 percent are perpetual problems - so being able to manage differences over time is key to marital happiness!

Dr. John Gottman, having studied couples for over 20 years, found that there are key ingredients for relationship happiness:

  • Having a strong friendship with your spouse.
  • Being able to manage conflict in the relationship (and knowing which problems are solvable).
  • Avoiding destructive behavior like criticism, contempt, defensiveness or ignoring your spouse.
  • Building dreams and shared meaning with each other.

For military couples in particular, the ability to problem-solve and manage conflict is key to relationship happiness. Fortunately, problem solving and conflict management are essential ingredients for Warfighter success. Through pre-deployment training, deployment, and reset, Warfighters within each branch learn key strategies for how to manage their emotions, identify problems, develop friendships, share memories together and map strategies for optimal outcomes - all of which are skills that can help foster great family relationships.

However, while deployed, each partner can change in ways that their spouse might not be aware of (both in theater and at home). That’s why making the effort to get to know each other again (even if you've been together for 50 years) is an important part of relationship happiness over time.

Take some time to ask your partner questions like:

  • What attracted you to me when we first met?
  • Who are your best friends at this point?
  • What would you like to see happen for us in the next five years?
  • What about yourself are you most proud of?

Questions like these can help foster friendship and positive feelings between you, and keep building dreams for a happy relationship and future together.

Source: These strategies were discussed at the recent American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists conference in September. Specific ideas from Dr. John Gottman's keynote speech, as well as Dr. Robert O'Brien's workshop on "Research-based Conflict Management After Combat Trauma," were used.