When we talk about managing conflict, we don’t mean eliminating it. We don’t even necessarily mean reducing it. In fact, sometimes it’s better to increase it. It all depends on which type of conflict is involved. We’re going to discuss different types of conflict in this chapter. To start out, let’s define two major categories: destructive versus constructive conflict. “Constructive conflict.” Doesn’t that sound like an oxymoron? How can conflict be constructive? Doesn’t conflict wreck relationships? Most of us are so conditioned by painful experience that we overlook the potential utility of conflict. Anger tends to get the same treatment. How can anger be a good thing? When it protects and helps the species to survive. Conflict can similarly protect and help our relationship to survive. We just need to know how to do it skillfully. The difference between constructive conflict and destructive conflict is like the difference between electricity and an atomic bomb.
We have to initiate conflict in certain situations if we want a vital relationship. If we settle for an emotionally distant relationship with our partner, then we can afford to be perpetually nice. Conflict and anger won’t be necessary. Totally avoiding conflict will get us a peaceful and vapid relationship. If we want emotional closeness instead, then we’ll have to pay for it with occasional discomfort. We’ll have to use our anger in a disciplined way while we risk our partner’s disapproval and correct the situation so that it doesn’t perpetuate. This is the heavy lifting aspect of a vital relationship. It’s tough work, but it keeps a relationship more balanced. Robust relationships aren’t for wimps!