Why is there so much Conflict (and What to do About It)

Humans are notoriously complex creatures and this complexity often follows us and is expanded within our relationships. Sometimes, these complexities turn into high-conflict cycles that are difficult to resolve, whether it’s with our partners, others, or even just ourselves.

Why do we Experience Conflict?

We all bring fears, anxieties, communication styles, and past problems to relationships.

It’s common that as our relationship grows through time, we’re confronted with these realities within ourselves. Sometimes we reach a place where rather than dealing with our internal conflicts we project these feelings onto our partner—even when their intentions are good or they are just being themselves.

The first step to repairing this is to understand our own feelings and where they originate. Realizing that almost everything we feel has its roots somewhere within us allows us to take our partner’s actions and reactions out of the picture. When we understand our own emotions, they’re easier to talk about and work through – and our conversations can be more productive than, say, arguing about chores.

Another common scenario is that we don’t feel comfortable expressing our needs clearly, or maybe when we do voice them, we don’t feel as if they are understood or accepted. Having different communication styles, expectations, and different mindsets about complex situations often amplifies these issues. To de-escalate conflict, agree to take a break and agree to come back. Use this break time to outline your needs and expectations clearly to yourself, so you can present them calmly and address them as a team.

It’s important to remember that all our behaviors fill some need or desire. We watch television or take a walk to relax; we go to work so we can eat and pay our bills; we argue about the chores because we have a need for order or control; we reach fight, flight, or fawn to protect ourselves. The list goes on…

Learning to pause and recognize what our needs are in the moment, and those of our partner, can take practice, but once we understand that we’re all trying to achieve a goal, conflicts come into perspective and are easier to resolve.

The Big Tips

  • Don’t take your partner’s behavior personally

  • Take a break when tempers flare

  • Come back to the disagreement with cool heads

  • Clearly express your needs

  • Hear your partner and try to understand their point of view

  • Remember you’re on the same team

  • Approach conflict with a mindset of solution-seeking

Understanding that our behaviors, and those of our partner, are a step toward reaching a goal also helps us to not take things personally, which allows us to move ahead with seeking a solution and common ground. When we take things personally, we often escalate the situation with a desire to “win” the argument. This can also look like rigidly chasing after one solution when a compromise would soothe both parties. Remember to come to the conflict in good faith that you’re both trying to find a win that meets both of your needs.


When emotions take over during conflict, it’s referred to as flooding. This happens when we are driven by our anger, insecurities, and personal agendas – so much so that these factors take a higher priority than a workable compromise or our partner’s feelings.

Flooding takes an escalation of arguing or yelling into verbal abuse or shutting down, depending on your communication habits. In these moments we can do incredible damage to our partner by making them feel alienated, unimportant, and unheard.

When our voices start to rise and hearts begin to pound, remember to take a beat. We need to gather our thoughts in a quiet space to define our own needs, and then figure out how and when to communicate them clearly.

This can take practice, especially if we are used to letting our emotions run rampant in these moments. We may feel slightly appeased after the flooding, but it inevitably causes extra damage to our relationships—damage that is harder to repair.

When to Seek Guidance

Even with our best efforts, we can’t always break these conflict patterns by ourselves. Maybe one partner is progressing and doing great but the other isn’t interested in growing out of the negative conflict habits. Both partners may try and not quite succeed in establishing new communication methods.

This is where a skilled relationship therapist, like ours at Well Marriage, can help couples envision and achieve deeper relationship bonds. Our therapists get to the heart of these issues, baggage, and patterns. They give you the tools you need and offer a safe space to express each partner’s point of view and teach methods for healthier communication. Even if one partner begins the therapeutic journey, it often helps things at home – and typically the other partner will decide to join after seeing positive changes.

An interesting fact about couples therapy is that “the average person receiving couple therapy is better off [by the end of their sessions] than 70%–80% of individuals not receiving treatment—an improvement rate that rivals or exceeds the most effective psychosocial and pharmacological interventions for individual mental health disorders” (Fam Process, 2022.)

Through 40 years of clinical experience, our team has helped over 15,000 couples with our modern, strengths-based marriage counseling and couples therapy.

We help couples find their way back to each other. Having improved relationships improves our self-esteem as well as how we relate to the world around us.



What Is Good Communication in a Relationship?

Examples of poor communication in a relationship are easy to find. Chances are, you’ve been at both the receiving and giving end of these phrases and more:

  • “Do what you want.”
  • “I’m fine.”
  • “This is all your fault.”
  • “You never do anything right.”
  • “You always say that.”

The list goes on and on. These examples range from passive aggressive to aggressive and have one thing in common: they put you and your partner against each other rather than against the underlying problem. Signs of bad communication in a relationship can show up as:

  • Repeating arguments
  • Escalating feelings of resentment
  • Inability to work together for common goals
  • The silent treatment
  • Less emotional intimacy
  • One person pursues more conversation and the other keeps backing away
  • Nobody listens to the other

It’s also important to understand—and aim for—signs of good communication in a relationship:

  • Open body language
  • Intentional language use
  • Prioritizing conflict resolution
  • Active listening
  • Increased trust 
  • Meeting your partner where they are
  • Actively expressing patience and understanding

Relationship communication takes work to improve–almost everyone picked up their communication habits as children and it can take awhile to rewire the brain for more effective adult communication. The good news is that there are steps that you and your partner can take to build a healthier relationship. From intentionally working on communication skills to working with a couples therapist, this blog covers what you can do to improve communication and focus on what really matters.

Why Is Communication Important in a Relationship?

One of the most noticeable effects of a lack of communication in a relationship is how it can cause other issues to spiral out of control. We end up assuming we know what the other person is thinking and what their motives are. We don’t feel understood, accepted, and appreciated when communication is off. Because of how communication affects all other areas of a relationship, couples often assume that a lack of communication causes any and all relationship issues. While this may be true to a certain extent, working on communication is the first step toward taking on more substantial challenges as a team.

How To Communicate Your Needs in a Relationship

Two common ways to improve communication in a relationship are to work with a marriage counselor or to focus on improving your communication skills with your partner. Either route will take dedication and engagement from both parties. You can use the following nine skills to help guide discussions with your partner in a productive way.

10 Important Communication Skills for Every Relationship

  • Communicate face-to-face. Technology can make communicating more convenient, but it can also make your intentions less clear. There are a lot of ways your partner could interpret a text. When speaking face-to-face, your tone of voice and body language give additional context to what you’re saying and listening to. 
  • Choose a neutral space to communicate in. Choosing the best space to have difficult conversions in is important for two reasons. First, it’s best to avoid having negative experiences in rooms like the bedroom or kitchen. Second, certain spaces may give you or your partner the “home field advantage.” For example, having arguments in your home office may encourage you to speak to your partner as though they are a coworker and not your spouse; this can make communication less effective. 
  • Talk about the big and little things. It can be tempting to only discuss major challenges like financial dilemmas, but it’s just as important to talk about smaller issues. That way, you can work out a solution with your spouse before they grow into something worse.
  • Talk about fun things, too. If you and your partner only talk when it’s time for an argument, then you’ll be more likely to avoid communicating with each other. Be sure to share exciting plans, funny moments from your day, and things that you appreciate about your partner.
  • Give your full attention to your partner. During important talks, focusing on your partner, what you’re discussing, and how they feel about it is a must. That way, you can respond in constructive ways, rather than escalating conflicts due to a misunderstanding.  
  • Allow your partner to express themselves. You and your partner each have unique and valid perspectives. Listen to understand their viewpoint instead of looking for an opportunity to interrupt and respond. Doing so will make your partner feel valued, and you will gain a better understanding of their perspective.
  • Use “I” statements. This skill will help you communicate your own feelings about a topic, just like giving your partner time to speak allows them to share their thoughts. Using “I” statements also helps you avoid trying to place blame on your partner with “you” statements.
  • Be honest. Hiding important details or feelings may be tempting in the short-run, but being upfront about how a situation impacts your relationship gives you and your partner more time to find a solution. Otherwise, that problem could grow until it’s too difficult to hide. 
  • Keep things in perspective. In the heat of an argument, small things can feel like deal-breakers. Dirty dishes, socks laying on the floor, and other issues can add fuel to the fire and distract from the problem at hand. Of course, the small things matter, too, so you can set aside another time to discuss them. 
  • Take a break. Learn to recognize when things are going nowhere and take a beat. If your partner has disengaged, pursuing the conversation further will likely upset you both. If your discussion is spiraling into conflict, take a break. Reassess what is important and set a time to come back to it when you’re both prepared for calm and open discussion. 

How Do You Fix Bad Communication in a Relationship?

Communication is hard, and relationships with poor communication may have a more difficult time overcoming significant challenges. Couples can benefit from a safe and guided space to learn these essential communication skills and work through difficult situations with a mediator. This is exactly what marriage counseling and couples therapy can provide.  

In relationship therapy, we examine why we communicate our needs the way we do. Where did our style start? Does this style still work for us now as adults? Both partners will examine these origins and how the two styles work together, for better or worse.  You’ll come out on the other side with a clearer understanding of how to express your own needs, how to hear your partner’s needs, and how to meet in the middle.

See how a change in communication can start your relationship on the path forward. Schedule an appointment today with Well Marriage Center today.

Success Stories: Nadia and Liam

On the vulnerability of sharing success stories:

Sometimes a couple wants to share their story. We’re really appreciative of the vulnerability and trust such a feat takes, and we hope you appreciate these stories as well.

(Names have been changed to preserve the author’s privacy.)

If your relationship is struggling, or if you feel empowered to take preventative steps to keep your relationship in a good place, we’re here to work with all couples who are willing to put in the effort.

Great relationships can be built, rebuilt, and sustained.

Nadia and Liam

Mary asked me to be honest with this, so here goes: when we first came to see Mary, we were ready to separate.  I don’t think I had ever felt more disconnected with Liam.  We fought most of the time, and honestly, we hurt each other quite a bit.  I know I definitely felt hurt.  I honestly didn’t think we could make it.  I cannot describe in words what that feeling is like.

When Liam and I think back to where we were, we’re thankful for two main things.  First, that we went and saw someone instead of just giving up.  And not just someone, but someone who understood what was happening to us.

Mary told us she works primarily with couples and it was obvious she had experience.  Second, we could tell from the very beginning that she wanted us to make it.  It was just a few subtle comments she made in our first meeting that seemed hopeful – at least they gave us hope.  That turned out to be really important for us.

Throughout our time with Mary she really worked hard with us to make progress, to help us understand what was happening in our relationship and also what was happening to us individually.  She helped empower us to heal some old wounds that I never even realized were causing so much pain.  And she got us working right from the beginning to communicate better, which seems like a simple thing, but for a couple that feels so disconnected, it was a big deal for us.

Today we have better self-esteem which helps us to have a better connection with each other.  We have a stronger bond that we both feel.  We are incredibly grateful to Mary – I wish I could rave more freely about her.  What I’ll say is the greatest thing about her: she will work hard for your relationship in a way that helps you feel hope.  You won’t waste your time with her – she gets you moving right from the get-go in a very safe and supportive way.”