But what if I told you that if you're suppressing conflict, you're actually weakening your relationships? Research suggests that engaging in non-blaming open conflict can bring people closer and that people who engage in healthy conflict have greater well-being, are more popular, and have less depression, anxiety, and loneliness. And when people avoid conflict, they often choose to distance themselves instead, which may damage relationships.
Many of our fears around engaging in open conflict stem from our misconceptions about what conflict has to look like. We have a picture in our heads of arguments escalating, shouting, and flipped over tables—like a game of Monopoly gone awry. Some of us may have even worked up the courage to confront others, only to have our relationships destroyed, leading us to conclude that silencing ourselves is the best approach; but our issue is likely not that we brought up points of conflict, but how we did it.
To work through conflict to better our relationships, we need to know how to do it effectively.
1. Get Your Mind and Energy Right
First, if you're pulsing with rage, it's not the time to enter into conflict, as research finds that angry conflict is associated with relationship damage. You're going into this conversation calmly, seeing it as an opportunity to better your relationship. Your approach isn't adversarial—to put the other person in their place—but collaborative, to figure out ways to make the relationship better. Whatever is hurting you about the relationship is hurting the relationship because you are a participant in it. Having this mindset will help you feel validated (rather than selfish) in expressing your concerns.