Conflict Resolution in Personal Relationships

It is almost impossible to avoid conflicts in situations that warrant interpersonal interactions. It is especially the case in relationships because personal differences are always likely to emerge. Igarash et al (2005) found out in a study that people’s interests clash whenever they interact. However, conflicts are inevitable in any healthy relationship. The existence of conflicts is a sign that the concerned parties are aware of their needs and rights. Consequently, conflicts arise when each party seeks to achieve their own goals, which may clash with those of the other party. Indeed, it is unrealistic to expect people in a relationship to agree with each other on everything all the time. As the saying goes, sometimes it is inevitable “to agree to disagree” (Hall, 1999). The presence of disagreements signals the genesis of a conflict. In this regard, the important thing is not whether or not conflicts occur, but how to manage them as they arise (Morley, & Shockley-Zalabak, 1986). Avoidance of conflicts does not offer a long lasting solution. Instead, it only postpones possible confrontations. The problem still remains, and there is always the danger of escalating to a level that will threaten to destroy the relationship (Morley & Shockley-Zabalak, 1986). On the other hand, conflicts provide parties with the opportunity to bond and strengthen their relationship. It happens when the conflict is handled in a positive and respectful manner. Thus, conflict management skills are crucial in helping individuals develop mutually benefiting relationships. This paper provides a critical review of the literature pertaining to conflict management in personal relationships. It analyses previous studies on the various approaches used in solving situations of conflict. The knowledge gained thus will provide a framework for understanding how to solve conflicts that may arise between roommates of opposite sexes.

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The common cause of conflicts between people of opposite sexes is gender differences (Shockley-Zalabak & Morley, 1984b). Research studies on conflicts associated with gender differences point to different ways of perceiving issues as a central factor. As a result, men and women communicate differently, even when dealing with the same issue (Stewart, Stinnett, & Rosenfeld, 2000). In addition, differences in gender stereotyping influences the way individuals tackle issues. For instance, previous studies indicate that women talk more about issues while men tend to assume or downplay them (Hall & Carter, 1999). This idea perhaps arises from the concept advanced by John Gray in his book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, which points to the different ways in which women and men confront problem (Stewart, Stinnett & Rosenfeld, 2000). Accordingly, the first step in dealing with conflicts between people of opposite sexes is by understanding the influence of gender differences in people’s perceptions. These differences might come into play when people of opposite sexes, whether in a relationship or not, share a room. The use of household gadgets such as the telephone may be a source of conflicts. It follows studies indicating that gender differences common in face-to-face communications are also visible in the way women and men use phones to communicate (Noble, 1987). Women frequently use communication media such as phones and emails as a way of furthering interpersonal relationships and social interactions (Lacohee & Anderson, 2000). In contrast, men use communication mediums for practical reasons such as passing along information. Consequently, differences may arise when roommates of opposite sexes share communication tools like phones and computers in the house. It is because men may be irritated if they consider women’s emotional display and small talk on the phone an illegitimate and unnecessary use of resources (Lacohee & Anderson, 2008). A longitudinal study to investigate cross-gender differences in communication the researchers found out that men use approaches that tend to intimidate and force others into submission (Igarashi et al, 2005; Horstmanshof & Power, 2005).

Other research studies have found out that men are generally confrontational and arrogant in tense situations (Herring, 1993). In a study that investigated how men and women behaved in situations of interpersonal conflicts (such as clashing interests), it showed that men tend to promote their own importance at the expense of others (Herring, 1993; Shockley-Zalabak, & Morley, 1984b). Similar findings were observed in a research study investigating the relationship between TV watching among children and self-esteem. The findings suggest that understanding the need of others improves their self esteem and prepares encourages them to be active participants in resolving conflicts (Martins &Harrison, 2012). It helps the parties understand approaches that should be avoided to avert escalating the conflict.

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Setting an appropriate scene to talk about a problem is important in creating a friendly atmosphere (Herring, 1993). Considering that women are emotional, it is necessary for the other party to use a gentle approach in broaching up and explaining the problem (Stewart, Stinnett & Rosenfeld, 2000). The initial challenge is convincing the other party that the problem is a mutual one. This understanding would encourage the parties’ willingness to resolve the conflict through negotiation and discussion of the pertinent issues as opposed to confrontation and blame-shifting (Rahim, Antonion, & Psenicka, 2001). In discussing the conflict, it is important to avoid appearing self-righteous by explaining that one is presenting their side of the problem. Employing listening skills to hear out the other side encourages collaborative participation in finding a solution.

In relationships, underlying self-interests and conflicting needs may influence each individual to perceive the problem differently. Accordingly, it is vitally crucial to clearly articulate the problem and how it affects each one (Rahim, Antonion, & Psenicka, 2001). This common understanding will determine the extent to which both parties will be willing to compromise and arrive at a mutually acceptable and beneficial solution. In a relationship, conflicts can arise from small and large differences. They are unavoidable occurrences whenever there are clashing values, needs, desires, motivations, or ideas (Herring, 1993). At times, the differences may seem trivial and therefore, easily ignored or dismissed as inconsequential. However, they may be manifestations of deep personal needs that become apparent when triggered by a conflict. These needs may include a desire to feel respected, safe, valued, and cared for. It is important, therefore, to recognize, respect and be sensitive to the needs of other (Hall, 1992). Such an attitude not only helps avoid unnecessary difference, but provides a friendly atmosphere for resolving conflicts when they arise. It is especially the case in personal relationships where misunderstanding about each other’s needs may lead to arguments and keeping of distance (Friedman & Tidd, 2000). Parties should recognize and accept the legitimacy of the other’s personal needs and be willing to address them with compassion and understanding. In addition, it opens avenues for creative and accommodative means of solving problems and improving relationships.

Painful memories of previous experiences involving interpersonal conflicts and unhealthy relationships may anticipate current conflicts to equally end up badly. Such people may perceive conflicts in a relationship as humiliating and demoralizing experiences Shockley-Zalabak, & Morley, 1984b). Arraying these fears helps in creating trust and confidence between the involved parties.

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Stress management is necessary in resolving conflicts in a relationship. The ability to manage stressful situations is the key to staying focused, balanced, and being in control of the situation regardless the enormity of the problem at hand (Bodtker & Jameson, 2001). Otherwise, one becomes overwhelmed by the challenges and unable to confront the problem in a rational and healthy manner. The driving analogue used by psychologist Connie Lillas outlines some of the ways in which stress hinders effective resolution of conflicts in a relationship. One of the reactions is “foot on the gas,” whereby, one party gets angry or agitated (Morley & Shockley-Zalabak, 1986). One becomes emotional and keyed up, which prevents them from using dialogue and negotiation as a sober means of finding a solution (Bodtker & Jameson, 2001). Another negative effect of stress is the “foot on brake” reaction. Under this situation, one becomes withdrawn, depressed, and unwilling to confront the problem. This response hinders individuals from getting out of their comfort zone to confront the issue head-on (Morley & Shockley-Zalabak, 1986). Stress is therefore a powerful inhibition in people’s ability to examine, analyze and resolve conflicts (Friedman & Tidd, 2000). Particularly, it hinders one from reading the other party’s verbal communication accurately. Also, studies show that conflicts are best resolved when individuals are able to listen to others, understand their own feelings, and communicate their needs clearly. In a face-to-face communication, emotional awareness is important in enabling individuals understand the problems affecting others and stay motivates throughout the duration it takes to resolve a problem.

The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) is another useful model in conflict resolution. It calls for “increased understanding, improved self knowledge, collaboration, compromise, and accommodation when negotiating for a solution” (Friedman & Tidd, 2000). Understanding is necessary to expand one’s awareness of the situation and enable them to negotiate for their needs without undermining or compromising those of others. Self-knowledge allows people to examine their goals and interests and decide on those that are important. It is important in situations that require compromising. Collaboration encourages willingness to take care of each other’s needs, while compromise encourages parties to adopt a solution that satisfies each one partially. 

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