The next best thing to preventing conflict is having the skills to manage differences effectively. Differences are inevitable in relationships; conflict is optional. It’s the differences in our personalities, our styles of relating, our perspectives, and our temperaments that make us attractive to each other and allow us to have a fuller, more complete experience of life. We rarely are strongly attracted to people who are just like us. Differences turn into conflict when one or both partners try to coerce the other to do, say, think, or feel what they want them to. Conflict occurs when both partners are engaged in a struggle to resist each other’s efforts to become dominated or controlled by the other.
Most of us don’t come into their marriages with highly developed conflict management skills, but these abilities can be cultivated through practice on the job. While most couples have an abundance of opportunities to practice the art of conflict management, the great majority of them fail to take advantage of those opportunities. They choose instead, to either grudgingly accommodate each other, engage in various forms of manipulation or coercion, or simply practice denial. These strategies are all potentially destructive to relationships and often lead to continual cycles of pain, resentment, and alienation.