Counsellors, Couples and Conflict
Conflict is part of any interpersonal relationship and occurs as a result of differences in opinions. People differ in values, dreams, desires and perceptions. Therefore, we are all bound to encounter conflict at some point in our lives (Long & Young, 2007). Conflict can range from less serious mild disagreements to more intensely heated arguments.
Previous research has found that marital conflict often stems from unmet needs, wants, and desires. From this perspective, marital conflict is defined as a process of interaction in which one or both partners feel discomfort about some aspect of their relationship and try to resolve it in some manner (Hamamci, 2005). When one person needs or wants something badly enough, and the other person is unwilling or unable to meet that need, resentment will often grow.
Then, if one were to add the power of an unruly tongue, the situation will usually become ripe for very destructive forms of conflict. To look at it pragmatically, romantic relationship conflict will often happen when one member of the couple perceives inequity or experiences an imbalance in rewards or benefits from being in the relationship whereby it is perceived by one member of the couple that the other only cares about his/ her individual needs (Long & Young, 2007).
The negative consequences of conflict are probably familiar to all of us. Conflict can cause psychological pain that manifests in withdrawal and distance, depression, anxiety and/or aggression. Not only between the couple but also with those who are living around them (Choi, 2008).
However, there are also constructive outcomes to conflict in romantic relationships. For instance, people who continue to relate to one another despite their conflict may build greater trust and confidence in each another and become more apt in their ability to resolve their problems (Johnson, 2007). However, reoccurring conflict is usually a symptom of a problem in the romantic relationship and therefore should be addressed intentionally by the couple.
The role of the counsellor, when dealing with couples who are experiencing conflict, is to help them identify the source of such conflict and its style to assist them in implementing skills to resolve the disagreements (Relationships Australia, 2009).