What is Conflict?

"If certain human needs are not satisfied there will be conflict. The conflict will be of such a character that no suppressive means will contain it. Attempts to suppress it will lead, on the contrary, to exponential increases in conflict".

Reference: John Burton: Human Needs Theory (Macmillan, London, 1990)

Having a difference of opinion, differing values, beliefs and expectations are all normal experiences in any relationship, including a marriage.

I have heard during my counselling practice that if one partner has a different opinion about something that is held important by the other, then it becomes a struggle. I have even heard that one partner then finds it hard to continue to hold positive feelings about the other.

There is an assumption here that a party SHOULD agree with their partner about EVERYTHING they hold important otherwise the relationship is at risk.

Most conflict between intimate partners happens as a result of an inability or unwillingness of one or both parties to hold their own position and allow their partner to hold their's without feeling hurt or discounted and resorting to blame or criticism.

The more invested a party is in having agreement, the more likely tactics such as critical remarks, personal "put downs", bringing up past misdemeanors and so on are likely to occur.

The other option is to withdraw completely and engage in stonewalling for periods lasting anywhere from hours to days to weeks.

Either of these tactics are unhealthy ways of an attempt to gain or regain power in the relationship. Couples in which one or both parties suffer from low self esteem often resort to these mechanisms to cope and address what is perceived (consciously or unconsciously) as a power struggle.

If this pattern of conflict occurs repeatedly, over time the self esteem of one or both parties will be so diminished that the only relief they can contemplate is separation. This outcome need not occur if the couple seek counselling help early on before complete disconnection occurs leaving no good will to resurrect the relationship.

When a couple have reached the point of separation, there is often a level of high conflict, making it difficult for negotiations to take place over how children will be cared for following separation (Parenting Plans) and how the assets of the relationship will be divided (Property Agreement).

This is where a trained Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner can help a couple reach agreement these issues. For Parenting Plans, attending Family Dispute Resolution is a prerequisite to approaching the Family Law Court for Parenting Orders.

Christine Bennett offers Family Dispute Resolution and Marriage Counselling in Crows Nest, Central Coast NSW and online.

What is conflict
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