Any relationship will eventually lead to a disagreement between the parties involved.

While this can be said about any type of relationship, from business to family members, to friends, this is an especially important and delicate situation in romantic relationships. Because partners in an established and developed relationship, as they become more comfortable with each other, will also expose themselves in ways that make them more vulnerable than in other types of relationships. It is a challenge to minimize conflicts when disagreements arise and at the same time ensure that a compromise doesn’t lead to resentment on any one’s part.

At first glance,the best solution is to minimize conflict. This does make sense: by intentionally acknowledging the needs of a partner it is possible, with much success, to reduce the intensity and frequency of petty squabbles. Unfortunately this still leaves the important disagreements on the table because instead of being rooted in the environment (dirty dishes, unkempt livingroom) or agreed upon responsibilities (taking out the trash, preparing meals, etc.) these disagreements stem from a fundamental difference in values and to a smaller extent world views: what’s an appropriate punishment for your child not finishing homework? Does visiting your parents twice a week excessive? Is going out with your partner and few close friends for drinks a date?

And of course there’s a world of opportunity to inadvertently step on some toes simply because it’s difficult to read others minds – even if it’s your partner’s.

While any effort to reduce conflicts in a relationship is welcome, it is also important that it’s done in an appropriate manner. This is because the conflict, regardless of what it is about, fulfills an important role in a relationship. For example, in a book Nonviolent Communication (opens in a new window) the author Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D. proposes a well documented system for quickly defusing aggressive situations. While definitely true that the techniques to reduce the intensity of conflicts and to a lesser extent their frequency might be useful in a romantic relationship, it is easy for this to become a slippery slope.

There is no doubt that what Marshall Rosenberg presents works. The question isn’t whether it works, but rather if diminishing conflicts is a benefit to the underlying relationship. This is because conflicts provide a way to:

  • Assert our views
  • Discover our partner’s views
  • Experience the emotions which accompany the conflict
  • Arrive at a mutually acceptable resolution

A necessary experience of working through a conflict ultimately benefits the relationship by making it more intimate.

These techniques work wonders in critical, high-stakes situations but if practiced with abundance will erode a long-term romantic relationship over time. This is because techniques and methodologies similar to Nonviolent Communication provide a quick-fix Band-Aid in the form of Conflict Avoidance. It has practical applications in negotiations, law enforcement, and any other field where it is critical to make the conflict “disappear” as quickly as possible so that the underlying situation can be handled in safety and in a less strained time frame.

In contrast, any lasting relationship survives not because of successful application of conflict avoidance but because of consistent, repeated and effective Conflict Resolution.

Barring any immediate danger of a relationship collapsing (in which case Nonviolent Communication would save your relationship long enough to hopefully work things out) avoiding conflict would not only not resolve it – and make it recurrent – but would also rob you and your partner of the experience or resolving a conflict which ultimately strengthens your romantic relationship.

The fundamental flaw in believing that conflict is detrimental to a relationship is that it really isn’t. Conflict from time to time is a necessary and important part of any long-term romantic relationship, and while resolving conflicts in constructive way when they come up will do wonders for your relationship, avoiding conflict perpetually without resolving it eventually would spell doom.

The relationship without ongoing experiences of conflict resolution (either due to lack of conflict – because your relationship isn’t close enough, or due to Nonviolent Communication type of techniques and successful conflict avoidance) will fizzle out and dissolve over time.

Don’t trade your ongoing disagreements of 48 years for a conflict-less life of “living with a roommate” type of romantic relationship. Embrace the conflict when it occurs and work diligently to resolve it instead of applying a quick-fix Band-Aid to make the conflict in your romantic relationship disappear.