c is for conflict

Most relationship problems are perpetual.

Most relationship problems are perpetual.

Time to stop fighting the “I’m right, you’re wrong” battle and consider what you’re really fighting about.

All of us have conflicts in our relationships.  Sometimes they’re just simple disagreements, while other times they’re awful battles with no resolution in sight.   When thinking about a conflict in any relationship, consider whether the problem is solvable or perpetual, as this can help navigate your way.  This tool can help assess you relationship conflicts.

Relationship researchers say around two-thirds of conflict is about perpetual problems - these are the same battles that keep happening over and over again.   They are about the same issues you’ve had for a long time that keep arising, often around seemingly nothing

Perpetual relationship Problems   

Perpetual problems are normal and are based on fundamental differences that any two people face. They are either 1) differences in personalities that repeatedly create conflict or 2) differences in needs.   The exact topic of perpetual problems will be different for different couples, but four very common areas of conflict are over neatness; finances; parenting; and sex.


Sometimes perpetual problems are situational and can be solved.  The conflict is simply about that topic and there is not a deeper meaning behind each partner’s position.  A solution can be found and maintained.  To do this, a couple will need to have a discussion about the problem to determine the solution.  This requires each to see the issue from the other’s perspective and be willing to compromise so both have their needs met.   If there is no resolution, the conflict can become gridlocked and gridlocked conflict often leads to much bigger problems with emotional disengagement.


Gridlocked perpetual problems are ongoing problems that have been repeatedly mishandled and have essentially mutated into something uncomfortable. When a couple tries to discuss a gridlocked issue, it can feel like they are “spinning their wheels” and getting nowhere. Gridlocked discussions only lead to painful exchanges or icy silences and almost always involve criticism and defensiveness. The nature of gridlock is that hidden agendas underlie the issue.  If left untended these differences can destroy a relationship.    Once a problem becomes gridlocked, a couple may find it very difficult to navigate alone and this is where a clinical psychologist can help.

A psychologist can help to overcome the gridlock by untangling the issues to reveal the deeper meaning behind it.   A psychologist can also provide tools to build emotional intelligence and the skills to manage conflict and enhance friendship.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that the problem will be solved, but rather ‘if’ and ‘how’ each can cope with the unsolvable issue.  Knowing which conflicts you can resolve and which will require more patience and understanding is a great first step.

article by Lydia Rigano

this article appears in DUOMagazine November 2017

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