About ten years ago, I had a major falling out with one of my best friends.
We got into an argument over something too minor to even recall. Both of us were young and bullheaded, and neither of us was willing to relent.
The rupture was eventually followed by repair, and our friendship grew stronger as a result.
Conflict in relationships is often assumed to be unhealthy. But setting aside toxic conflict—involving physical violence or chronically negative patterns of behavior—conflict is a necessary and healthy part of any relationship.
In fact, the lack of conflict is a warning sign. If a relationship has never experienced conflict, you don’t know if it’s stable.
Think of a bridge built in an earthquake zone that has never been tested to see if it can withstand seismic activity. The most minor tectonic movement can tear that bridge apart.
A relationship works in a similar way. You don’t know if it’s strong enough to survive unless it has experienced and overcome conflict.
What’s more, when conflict is managed effectively—when the rupture is followed by repair—the resulting bonds are often stronger than before. Conflict creates a doorway to see each other more clearly and to handle each other with care.
The absence of conflict doesn’t mean harmony.
It means that someone in the relationship is people-pleasing (which should really be called people-manipulating). They’re hiding their wants, needs, or thoughts to get the other person to like them. They’re manipulating the other into believing that all is well with the relationship—even when it isn’t.
To avoid conflict, we perform this delicate dance, tiptoeing around the problem—treating it like the third rail, never to be touched—and assuming that the other person will eventually come to their senses on their own.
But there’s no way for others to know how you feel unless you tell them. And there’s no way for someone to see what they’re missing unless you show them.
This is often why people don’t share dissenting views at work. It’s easier to say what others want to hear instead of generating conflict with honest feedback.
This is often why many personal relationships grow sour. A friend doesn’t share what she really feels about constantly being on the receiving end of long, rambling monologues. A partner doesn’t share how he really feels about his partner’s avoidant behavior. The relationship eventually falls apart.
Fewer conflicts doesn’t mean a better relationship.
As uncomfortable as it is, healthy conflict often signals a thriving relationship.