Lately, I’ve been studying friendship, and I’ve been asking people what they do when they’re upset with a friend. Most people have said that they suck it up, in order to preserve the relationship.
But what if I told you that if you’re suppressing conflict, you’re actually weakening your relationships? Research finds that engaging in non-blaming open conflict brings people closer and that people who engage in healthy conflict have greater well-being, are more popular, and have less depression, anxiety, and loneliness. And when people avoid conflict, they often choose to distance themselves instead, which damages relationships.
Many of our fears around engaging in open conflict stem from our misconceptions about what conflict has to look like. We have a picture in our heads of arguments escalating, shouting, and flipped over tables—like a game of Monopoly gone awry. Some of us may have even worked up the courage to confront others, only to have our relationships destroyed, leading us to conclude that silencing ourselves is the best approach; but our issue is likely not that we brought up points of conflict, but how we did it.
To work through conflict to better our relationships, we need to know how to do it effectively.