We accept that not every moment of a relationship is going to be the happiest ever. Sometimes we really disagree with our S.O.s or they hurt our feelings (and vise-versa). From criticism to some (hopefully short-lived) jealousy, we’re bound to be guilty of bad relationship habits occasionally. And while some conflict is certainly part of the deal, Courtney Geter, a licensed marriage and family therapist, says that there’s a point where disagreements can deteriorate a relationship, or worse, turn into abuse.

In the middle of an argument...

THE range OF ways couples deal with CONFLICT

In terms of conflict style, there’s a range of ways individuals and couples deal with problems. In general though, your relationship might be in a period of turmoil — or be altogether toxic — if you’re “feeling resentful, insecure, unsafe, or a sense of dread. Those feelings may indicate a larger problem in the relationship that needs addressing,” Geter explains. Although she says that the line between healthy conflict and unhealthy conflict varies for different couples, there are extremes on either end of the conflict spectrum. On one hand, if a couple never fights, Geter wonders if they’re conflict avoidant or not comfortable discussing hard topics with their partner. We’re guessing passive-aggressiveness is somewhere in the middle.

The opposite of avoidance is abuse. Conflict to the point of physical fighting or emotional manipulation isn’t just detrimental to a relationship. It can be detrimental to a person. “Any conflict that leads to physical or emotional abuse is not healthy for the individuals or relationship,” Geter says. “Domestic violence can not only create physical scars, but also emotional scars, such as extreme fear or feeling hyper-vigilant in most situations.”


So where’s the happy medium? “Healthy conflict is when each person can disagree while respecting the other person’s opinion — even if they never end up agreeing,” according to Geter. The ideal situation here is when you disagree with your partner but take the time to listen to them without interrupting, hear their side, and choose to learn something from what your partner believes without judgment.

Geter points out that conflict is also healthy as long as each fight isn’t a Festivus-style airing of grievances. It might be tempting to bring up past conflicts or points of contention during an argument, but your relationship will be all the better if you choose to let bygones be bygones.

Overall, there’s no magic number in terms of the frequency and nature of conflict. However, you can sense when you’re on one extreme end of the spectrum by assessing the way that your relationship makes you feel. If your fights or disagreements leave your relationship stronger rather than weaker, you’re probably heading in the right direction.

How much conflict do you think is too much? Let us know @BritandCo.

(Photos via Getty)