Menu Relationship issues
Constructive conflict in relationships

Conflict is unavoidable. In every relationship, there are always going to be things to sort out that you can’t agree on straightaway. How you choose to deal with that conflict can make all the difference to your relationship [1].

This may be particularly important if you have children. Children who are exposed to negative conflict can sometimes act out or become anxious and withdrawn [2]. But, whether you have children or not, it’s always useful to improve your communication skills, and learning how to argue better is one of the best things you can do for your relationship.

Some arguments are over quickly and soon forgotten. Other arguments may come up more often, and could be indicative of a more serious personal or relationship issue. By using positive and constructive strategies [3], you can help ease the damage that destructive conflict can sometimes cause [4].

Constructive or destructive conflict

Destructive conflict is characterised by negative behaviour like criticism and rejection. You may be able to think of times where you and your partner have become heated and angry, and unable to resolve your differences [5].

Constructive conflict means staying calm and trying to work towards a solution together [2] [6]. If you have children, constructive conflict can help them to feel more secure. Children are less likely to get drawn into this type of conflict [6] and may even learn effective ways to cope and resolve their own problems in the future [2].

And, whether you have children or not, using constructive conflict makes your life easier, and helps you to find solutions faster and avoid getting stuck in cycles of criticism and defensiveness that can be difficult to break out of [5].

For tips on keeping your conflict constructive, check out the list below:

  • Stay calm
    This is the first and most important step. When you’re calm, it’s much easier to see your partner’s point of view, which is essential to building a constructive conversation.

  • Look for solutions
    Trying to win won’t get you anywhere, so look for solutions that take everybody’s needs into account and choose a course of action together.

  • Be accommodating
    If your partner is being negative or destructive, you don’t have to respond in kind. Sometimes, it only takes one of you to start making the conversation more constructive.

  • Be positive
    Positive behaviour like finding a quiet space to work things out or making your partner a cup of tea can sometimes help you get through a conflict. In some instances, a bit of affection may even be appropriate [7].


[1] Goodman, S. H., Barfoot, B., Frye, A. A., & Belli, A. M. (1999). Dimensions of marital conflict and children's social problem-solving skills. Journal of Family Psychology13(1), 33.

[2] Grych, J. H., & Fincham, F. D. (1990). Marital conflict and children's adjustment: a cognitive-contextual framework. Psychological bulletin108(2), 267.

[3] Johnson, K. L., & Roloff, M. E. (2000). The influence of argumentative role (initiator vs. resistor) on perceptions of serial argument resolvability and relational harm. Argumentation14(1), 1-15.

[4] Lloyd, S. A. (1990). Conflict types and strategies in violent marriages. Journal of Family Violence5(4), 269-284.

[5] Gottman, J. M., & Levenson, R. W. (1984). Why marriages fail: Affective and physiological patterns in marital interaction. Boundary areas in social and developmental psychology, 67-106.

[6] Cummings, E. M., & Davies, P. (1996). Emotional security as a regulatory process in normal development and the development of psychopathology. Development and psychopathology8(01), 123-139.

[7] Goeke-Morey, M. C., Cummings, E. M., Harold, G. T., & Shelton, K. H. (2003). Categories and continua of destructive and constructive marital conflict tactics from the perspective of US and Welsh children. Journal of Family Psychology17(3), 327.

Comments 1