Why Does Conflict Occur?
Problems at the workplace or in relationships are more complicated to solve than individual problems. Issues of different values, needs, and beliefs are not easy to resolve. Consider the budgeting of finances for a single person versus for two people. How people spend money requires the working out of many differences. Even rather simple money decisions can be difficult because issues of difference are often raised, and earlier unresolved conflicts may rear their ugly heads.
Research studies in human behavior indicate that conflict is inevitable in human relationships. Studies also show that conflict occurs more over perceived differences than real ones. In other words, people anticipate barriers to getting their needs met that may or may not be real. People each have unique ways of dealing with conflicts in their lives. Coming to understand your style and motives, as well as the style and motives of the other person, will help you resolve relationship conflict more effective.
Relationship conflict can often become a power struggle or a competition over who gets their way. It can be driven by either or both individual’s need to prove they are right, have a superior opinion, or a desire to hurt each other and “get even”. Consider the following 9 reasons why conflict occurs and determine which one(s) fit in your experience.
Lack of Communication
Failure to share ideas and feeling in an intimate relationship sets up a situation where they other person may try to fill n the gaps. Person A is left to read into what he thinks Person B will say or anticipate how she will respond. Person A may suspect negative things that provoke anxiety, leading to “looking for the worst”. For example, if Person B is silent at the dinner table night after night, Person A may suspect that Person B is angry or even having an affair. Yet Person B may only be upset about something else, or preoccupied with solving a problem at work. If lack of communication persists, trust is diminished and both people may become suspicious and defensive.
Lack or Effective Leadership or Decision Making
Lack of agreement about who’s in charge or how things are going to get done in any relationship can be a source of conflict. For example, if one person in a relationship expects democratic decision making and the other wants to be the authority, conflicts may be difficult to resolve. Then when other conflicts arise, the people becoming diverted into a struggle over whose authority is going to be accepted.
Attitude, belief, and expectation differences may interfere with making decisions if people are inflexible and hold rigid, dogmatic beliefs about the “right way” to do things. Different values and beliefs predispose the people to choose different goals or different methods to achieve the same goals. And, since each goal requires an investment of time, effort, and some sacrifice, people cannot pursue one goal without sacrificing another to some extent. Perhaps Person A wants to spend money on expensive vacations and Person B cares more about saving to move to a nicer apartment. Or maybe Person A wishes Person B would join her in attending every single soccer game that their son plays, while Person B would rather go bowling with his friends some Saturdays. These types of disagreements can cause conflict in a relationship.
Gender Role Differences
When people perceive their own and their person’s roles differently, problems can arise. For example, suppose that Tony’s father always came home to a hot dinner and a clean house because Tony’s mother was a traditional, full-time housewife with few interests outside her home. Tony may expect his wife, Amy, to live up to the definition of “wife and mother” he know as a boy. However, what if Amy believes that since both she and Tony work full-time, they should share the child care and housework equally? Since their concepts of gender role are different, conflict may result. Differences in beliefs about gender role should be discussed together by people in order to increase understanding and tolerance.
Not Pulling One’s Own Weight
Accomplishing tasks and achieving goals is a necessary element of all kinds of relationships. When tasks are not completed, people may become frustrated and angry. For example, Person A responds to Person B’s anger by finally performing a long requested task, a destructive pattern may develop. If Person B’s getting angry is the only thing that convinces Person A to turn off the TV and clean the house, then Person B will eventually tend to get angry right away whenever something needs to get done, because anger is the only thing that works. Low productivity in a relationship may induce manipulative criticism and shaming interaction. For example, Person A comes home from the office at 7:00 P.M. and says to Person B, who is reading a book on the sofa, “You are the laziest thing on the face of the earth. When are we going to eat dinner?”
Change and Transitions
Change and transition are givens for people in relationships. However, human beings tend to prefer secure, predictable patterns to the unknown. When transitions occur abruptly and without thorough processing of thoughts, feelings, and needs, conflict may result. Sudden changes – even if they are seemingly positive ones, like a better job – are likely to provoke annoyance, anxiety, and confusion if not adequately processed.
Unless thoroughly discussed and adequately worked through, people’s past unresolved conflicts inevitably have a negative impact on relationships. Many people shy away from discussing conflict because hurtful memories of past conflicts remain. These past experiences become the baggage of our present. Relationships have the potential either to heal or to re-wound scars from the past. For example, as a schoolboy Person A came from a family that was always busy doing projects or working. When he would take a break from his homework to watch TV, his father would shame him by saying, “You will never amount to anything.” Now when he comes home from working all day, Person B may rewound that parental scar by criticizing him for taking time to replenish himself by listening to music or puttering in the basement. Or Person B may help heal the old wound by affirming Person A’s right to take some time for self-care.
Distorted Beliefs About Conflict
There are several distorted beliefs that have impact on people’s ability to resolve conflict:
- Harmony is normal and conflict is abnormal. Conflict is in fact natural, normal and inevitable whenever people interact together.
- Conflict is the result of personality differences. The fact is that personalities do not conflict; people’s behaviors conflict. Frequently “personality conflict” is used as an excuse to avoid the conflict.
- Conflict and disagreement are the same. Disagreement is a simple difference of opinion, while conflict is more threatening. Disagreement is somewhat restrained and usually without the presence of powerful feeling; conflict is more feeling-filled and less reasonable.
Because relationships have the ability to amplify the strengths and weaknesses in each person’s personality, conflicts can become a destructive power struggle. If the destructive pattern of conflict infests the relationship, both people will feel angry, hurt, misunderstood, and rejected. Trust can become lost and the people may fall into playing games with each other. These relationships games block the people’s ability to communicate fairly and each sees the other as the one at fault and/or the one who should change. When this occurs, the relationship may become stuck. The people reach an impasse at the same point in their efforts to resolve conflicts. For example, one person may block any resolution attempts by routinely refusing to talk about it or withdrawing or sulking. This effectively destroys the conflict resolution process, and stalemate results.