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

All conflict happens between people for different, yet similar reasons. 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 work past, whether it’s with our partners, others, or even just ourselves.

Why do we Experience Conflict?

For one, we all bring our own fears, anxieties, communication styles, and unresolved 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 they have good intentions or are just being themselves.

The first step to resolving this is to understand our own feelings and where they come from. Realizing that most everything we feel has its base somewhere inside of 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 instead.

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 and accepted. Having different communication styles, expectations, and different mindsets about complex situations often amplifies this issue. Take a break from escalating conflict and agree to come back to it. Use this break time to outline your needs and expectations clearly to yourself, so you can present them calmly and tackle them as a team.

It’s important to remember that all our behaviors fill some need, want, or desire. We watch tv or take a walk to feel relaxed, 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 hit fight, flight, or fawn to protect ourselves…the list goes on.

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

The Big Tips

  • Don’t take your partner’s behavior personally

  • Take a break

  • Come back to the disagreement with cool heads

  • Clearly express your needs

  • Hear your partner and try to understand their POV

  • 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 part of a need also helps us not take things personally, which allows us to move ahead with seeking a solution and common ground. Taking things personally often just escalates the situation, and we end up striving to “win” the argument. This can also look like rigidly chasing after one solution, when another would soothe both parties.

When our emotions take over during conflict and we get stuck in the rut of trying to win, our relationship almost always loses. No one can “win” when neither side will flex—remember to come to the conflict in good faith that you’re both trying to find a solution or compromise that meets both of your needs.


Another common thing that happens when our emotions take over during conflict is called flooding. This happens when we are driven by our anger, insecurities, and needs – so much so that these things take a higher priority than solutions and our partner’s feelings.

It can escalate into variations of yelling or shutting down, depending on your communication habits. In these moments we can do incredible damage to our partners by making them feel alienated, unimportant, and unheard.

When our voice start to rise and heart begins to pound, remember to take a beat. We need to gather our thoughts in a quiet space in order 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 the emotions run rampant in these moments. We may feel slightly appeased after the flooding, but it usually adds extra damage to our relationships and requires making amends after.

When to Seek Guidance

However, even with our best efforts, we can’t always break these conflict patterns alone. Maybe one partner is progressing and doing great but the other isn’t interested in growing out of the negative conflict habits. Maybe both are trying and not quite succeeding.

This is where a skilled relationship therapist, like ours at Well Marriage, can really help couples see the light at the end of the tunnel. Our therapists get down to the heart of these issues, baggage, and patterns with you, give you the tools you need, a safe space to express each partner’s point of view, and methods to help resolve conflict. Even if just one partner begins the journey, it often helps things at home – and typically the other partner will decide to join after seeing positive changes.

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, which also improves our relationship with ourselves, others, and the world around us.