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What Is Relationship Conflict?

By Kathryn Rateliff Barr ; Updated June 13, 2017

Every relationship involves disagreements, but conflict happens when one or more relationship partners feel the disagreement threatens the relationship, according to the website article “Conflict Resolution Skills: Building the Skills That Can Turn Conflicts into Opportunities.” The conflict styles of those in the relationship determine how differing needs and opinions are handled, according to Daniel Eckstein, Ph.D., associate professor of counseling psychology at Ottawa University, in the article "Styles of Conflict Management" in "Family Journal."

Avoiding Turtles

Dr. Eckstein describes those who hide or withdraw from conflicts as turtles. Their conflict style is to avoid conflict at all costs by delaying or ignoring it and hoping it will go away. Their solutions are always lose-lose because they don’t want to enter the conflict at all. If you are in a relationship with someone like this, you might feel neglected because of your partner's unwillingness to engage in problem solving. Things will continue to grow until you either force a confrontation or end the relationship.

Accommodating Teddy Bears

The teddy bear conflict personality prefers to accommodate and try to please everyone rather than take a strong stand on the issues, according to Dr. Eckstein. If you are in a relationship with someone like this, you may perceive that person as wishy-washy and insincere. The style can work when the issue isn’t something you care about or when you realize that your initial response was wrong. If the teddy bear holds a grudge after the decision is made, however, problems remain that you could have to deal with again.

Competing Sharks

The shark conflict personality is aggressive. This individual might force acceptance by allowing no room for other opinions or competing with others for control of the situation, according to Dr. Eckstein. The shark style can work in an emergency, but it can kill the relationship if you feel your needs and wants are unimportant. The shark can damage your self-esteem. Sharks need to temper their style by collaborating and cooperating with others.

Compromising Foxes

The compromising fox personality encourages individuals in the conflict to work together so everyone wins something, according to Dr. Eckstein. Those with this conflict style don’t achieve a win-win solution, but the style is much healthier than those previously discussed because it values everyone’s input. This style can hang things up, however, if no one wants to compromise or if you need an immediate decision.

Collaborating Owls

The healthiest conflict personality is the collaborating owl, according to Dr. Eckstein. Owls are problem solvers and look for win-win solutions by gathering information and talking it out. Owls understand that disagreement is healthy and stay open to change and growth.

Healthy Resolutions

When you maintain a healthy conflict style, you can work towards resolution. Once you identify the conflict, brainstorm several solutions that allow everyone to win or to get something they want, suggests Larry Alan Nadig, Ph.D., a psychologist specializing in marriage and family relations, in the article "Relationship Conflict: Healthy or Unhealthy," featured on his website. Evaluate the alternatives and collaboratively choose a solution to work with. After you implement the solution, you can re-evaluate the situation and decide where to go from there.

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