5 conflict styles: How they affect your relationship

How do you handle conflicts? Discover the five conflict management styles and how they affect your partnership.

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Conflict within romantic relationships can have significant implications for individuals’ well-being and overall relationship satisfaction. Research suggests that ongoing or unresolved conflicts can contribute to heightened depressive and anxiety symptoms, negatively impact subjective health, and lead to increased functional impairment over time. 1

In this article, we’ll delve into five different conflict styles and their effects on your relationship. Exploring these conflict styles can provide valuable insights into promoting healthier and more constructive ways of managing conflicts within your relationship.

Do you want to learn more about how to deal with challenges in your relationship? Check out our comprehensive guide on how to deal with any conflicts in your relationship!

What are conflict styles?

What are conflict styles?

Conflict styles refer to the distinct ways in which individuals navigate and handle conflicts when they occur within a relationship. Research has consistently shown that how conflicts are handled in close relationships is a crucial factor in determining relationship maintenance and satisfaction. The strategies employed to resolve conflicts can significantly impact the overall quality and longevity of the relationship. 2

Two underlying dimensions: Assertiveness vs Cooperativeness

In 1976, a framework that defines conflict styles along two analytically independent dimensions was introduced: assertiveness (concern for self) and cooperativeness (concern for others). 2 3

Building upon these dimensions, five primary conflict management styles have been identified. These styles represent different approaches individuals adopt when faced with relationship conflicts. By understanding and recognizing these conflict styles, individuals can gain valuable insights into their own and their partner’s behaviors during conflicts. This understanding can pave the way for more effective communication, increased empathy, and the development of healthier conflict-resolution strategies within the relationship.

Do you have a hard time figuring out how to handle conflicts in your relationship? Learn how to effectively navigate conflicts in your relationship!

5 conflict management styles

Here are five distinct conflict management styles that individuals employ when faced with relationship conflicts. By understanding these styles and their effects, you can gain valuable insights into how to navigate conflicts more effectively, foster better communication, and promote healthier and more harmonious relationships.

1. Competing/Dominating style

The competing or dominating conflict management style is characterized by a high level of assertiveness and a low level of cooperativeness. Individuals employing this style tend to prioritize their own needs, goals, and desired outcomes during conflicts, often at the expense of others. 2 3

This conflict style is associated with a “win-lose” mentality, where individuals may adopt forcing behaviors and engage in argumentation to assert their viewpoint or achieve their desired outcome. The focus is primarily on individual goals and personal satisfaction rather than finding a mutually beneficial solution. 2 3

The win-lose nature of this style may lead to one party feeling resentful or powerless, which can hinder open communication and compromise. As to be expected, studies have found that couples who predominantly adopt the competing/dominating style tend to report the lowest levels of marital satisfaction. 3

To learn more about fostering healthy communication and conflict resolution techniques within relationships, check out our article on how to fight fair in a relationship.

2. Collaborating/Integrating style

The collaborating or integrating conflict management style is characterized by a high level of assertiveness and a high level of cooperativeness. Individuals who adopt this style actively engage in confronting disagreements and work together to find solutions that satisfy the needs and goals of all parties involved. 2 3

In other words, when using the collaborating/integrating style, individuals strive to maximize the outcomes for all parties involved in the conflict. They actively seek to understand different viewpoints, engage in open and constructive communication, and work together to find creative solutions that address the interests and needs of everyone.

Research shows that couples who use collaborative and problem-solving techniques experience greater satisfaction with how conflicts are handled and are more satisfied with the quality of their relationships overall. 3

3. Compromising style

The compromising conflict management style falls in the middle ground in terms of both assertiveness and cooperativeness. Individuals who adopt this style aim to find a middle ground or a mutually acceptable solution during conflicts. 3

When using the compromising style, individuals recognize the importance of finding a solution that is agreeable to both parties involved. Rather than pursuing a win-lose outcome or stubbornly holding onto their own perspective, individuals are open to negotiation and making reasonable trade-offs.

The compromising style can be beneficial in situations where finding a quick resolution is necessary or when maintaining harmony and preserving the relationship is paramount. It can help prevent conflicts from escalating and provide a foundation for continued cooperation and collaboration.

However, it’s important to note that the compromising style may not always lead to the most optimal or ideal solution for all parties involved. In some cases, it may involve making sacrifices or settling for less than the desired outcome. Therefore, careful consideration of the specific circumstances and the potential long-term implications of the compromise is essential.

4. Avoiding style

The avoiding conflict management style is characterized by both low assertiveness and low cooperativeness. Individuals who adopt this style tend to withdraw from conflicts and avoid taking a position or actively engaging in resolving the issues at hand. 2 3

When using the avoiding style, individuals may choose to ignore or sidestep conflicts, hoping that they will dissipate on their own. They may opt for temporary peacekeeping rather than addressing the underlying issues. This can lead to unresolved conflicts and a lack of open communication within the relationship.

While the avoiding style may offer temporary relief by preventing immediate conflict, it can have negative consequences for relationships. The conflict-avoidance style is often linked to low levels of marital satisfaction. This can be attributed to the fact that unresolved conflicts can build up over time, creating tension, resentment, and a lack of emotional closeness between partners. 3

5. Accommodating/Obliging style

The accommodating/obliging conflict management style is characterized by low assertiveness and high cooperativeness. Individuals who adopt this style prioritize maintaining harmony and accommodating the needs and desires of the other person involved in the conflict. 2 3

This conflict management style is driven by a strong desire to soothe the other person and seek a sense of harmony within the relationship. Individuals using the accommodating/obliging style may be more willing to make concessions and prioritize the outcomes and well-being of their partner over their own. 2 3

The accommodating style may also have potential drawbacks. Individuals who consistently prioritize the needs of their partner over their own may feel unheard, unfulfilled, or disregarded in the long run. This can create a power imbalance within the relationship and hinder personal growth and self-expression.

Setting boundaries can help maintain balance, promote mutual respect, and foster a healthier and more fulfilling partnership. Here are strategies to help you establish healthy boundaries in your relationship!

By being aware of the impact of conflict styles and actively practicing effective conflict resolution strategies, you can navigate conflicts more constructively. Check out our communication guide for more information on how to effectively manage conflicts!

  1. Shrout, M. R. (2021). The health consequences of stress in couples: A review and new integrated Dyadic Biobehavioral Stress Model. Brain, Behavior, & Immunity - Health, 16, 100328. doi.org ↩︎

  2. Cann, A., Norman, M. A., Welbourne, J. L., & Calhoun, L. G. (2008). Attachment styles, conflict styles and humour styles: interrelationships and associations with relationship satisfaction. European Journal of Personality, 22(2), 131–146. doi.org ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎

  3. Abraham P. Greeff, Tanya De Bruyne (2000) Conflict Management Style and Marital Satisfaction. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 26(4), 321–334. doi.org ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎

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Relationship Expert

Amy Clark

Amy Clark is a freelance writer who writes about relationships, marriage, and family. She has been happily married for over ten years and loves her husband and three kids. Before …

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