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More PsychNotes: Relationships

December 12, 2015       

Do You Understand Me? Conflict in Relationships
by Monica A. Frank, PhD

No matter what, people will have conflict. Two people will never have the same exact needs as one another. One person is too hot; one person is too cold. One person likes Chinese food; one person likes Italian. One person spends more; one person is thrifty. Some differences may cause more conflict than others but differences always exists.

Why is it that conflict can cause serious problems in some relationships but does not seem to affect others? Researchers Gordon and Chen (2015) examined the quality of relationships based upon whether the partners felt understood by the other. They found that conflict is less likely to be harmful to a relationship when the partners feel understood.

The couples who were part of the research indicated four reasons why feeling understood made a difference:

1) Importance of feeling understood. Whether or not the partner agreed, the individual feels better about the relationship because the partner made the effort to understand. “At least she tries to understand why I feel the way I do.”

2) Strengthens the relationship. The individual believes communication and understanding improves a relationship and places a value on those qualities rather than the differences that occur during conflict. “We are able to talk problems out which makes our relationship stronger.”

3) Invested and caring. When a person feels understood, they perceive the partner as caring about the relationship and making an extra effort to show their investment in the relationship. “I know he cares about me and our relationship because he takes the time to understand my feelings.”

4) Conflict resolution. People believe that when they are understood the conflict is more likely to be resolved, either through compromise or through the understanding itself. “We find a lot of the time that the conflict was just about misunderstanding one another.”

Gordon, A. M., & Chen, S. (2015, November 2). Do You Get Where I’m Coming From?: Perceived Understanding Buffers Against the Negative Impact of Conflict on Relationship Satisfaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication. DOI: 10.1037/pspi0000039

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