How Do We Stop Having the Same Fight Over and Over?: Making Sense of Conflict in Relationships and Finding Resolution

I will be celebrating my 10th wedding anniversary with my partner this year. This feels monumental to me, as I often struggled to see myself in a marriage in the traditional sense of the word. Yes, I wanted to be married and have children. And also, sometimes, I didn’t. I imagined so many different lives for myself. I had so many relationships work and then stop working, so imagining finding a way through the hurdles and the monotony of being in a relationship for this long wasn’t something I was convinced I could do. So far, I’m glad I tried.

The first year of my marriage was the hardest one. That’s not at all what I expected or what I had seen depicted in the movies. I had assumed that the first year would be easy; we would be in our honeymoon period, but that wasn’t the case for us. We had lived together for a few years before getting married. We had made it through the hell of wedding planning, but we really struggled with the transition. We just kept having the same fight over and over, although it took a while for that to become clear. My partner would express anger about me not attending sporting events with him or me being angry that we weren’t having dinner together more often. We realized that we had stepped into our marriage with certain expectations, expectations that we had never explicitly communicated with each other. We both thought that the other wasn’t being and doing the things that define a relationship, but we never stopped to question how we came to these conclusions in the first place.

We seriously talked about separating, and we talked about staying together. We sought the support of family, friends, and licensed therapists. We found a way through our conflicts, and we came to understand each other better. Conflict still occurs in our relationship; we still fight, but we have found our way back to each other when we do. 

What Is Relationship Conflict? 

We experience conflict when we disagree or when our needs or wants aren’t being met and are potentially at odds with another. In the same way that any romantic relationship has the potential to be a source of great comfort and solace, relationships can just as quickly be a source of conflict and distress. Relationships can be complicated, and despite our best efforts to the contrary, we’re bound to have disagreements that lead to hurting each other’s feelings, saying or doing the wrong thing, or allowing minor disagreements to turn into all-out battles over who’s “right.” 

However, experiencing conflict in a relationship is not a bad thing in and of itself. Conflict is a natural byproduct of throwing two (or more) people together, each with their own complexities and idiosyncrasies and baggage, and expecting them to live harmoniously. Believing that we should not have conflict in our relationships is where we set ourselves up to fail. It can be valuable and worthwhile to take a critical look at how we experience conflict in our relationships and if the conflict patterns we find ourselves in have room for improvement. 

Research validates that relationships can benefit from conflict. According to psychologists, when dealing with serious issues and your partner is open to change, being direct and confronting the problem head-on can benefit the relationship. The same study found that a softer, more cooperative approach might not solve big problems. Still, it can help maintain your relationship when the issues are less significant, or your partner is defensive.

There are varying degrees of conflict that one can experience in a relationship, anything from relatively low-stakes disagreements, like arguments over how to load the dishwasher, to the more high-stakes forms of conflict, like behaviors that lead to a breakdown in trust. Understanding the type of conflict you and your partner have and seeing the patterns can help you find your way to resolution. Unfortunately, the conflict in our relationships can be so emotionally activating that any issue can cause similar distress. Understanding the specifics of your relationship dynamics, attachment styles, and what you bring into the relationship can help you understand why you keep having the same fights repeatedly and how to stop.

Let’s take an in-depth look into some common causes of conflict in relationships, assess the impacts of relationship conflict on our health, and consider how to resolve conflict in a way that could work better for both of you. 

What Causes Conflict in Relationships?


Whether stemming from unclear expression, selective listening, or unspoken assumptions, miscommunication can create the perfect environment for developing conflict in a relationship. Poor communication has an uncanny ability to distort intentions, feelings, and expectations, and when messages are inaccurately conveyed or received, they can result in increased misunderstandings and feelings of frustration. Additionally, we all have different and varying communication styles, cultural backgrounds, and emotional states, which can further complicate the exchange of information and make it easier for us to misinterpret our partner’s meanings and intentions. Unresolved miscommunications can accumulate over time, compounding into deeper-seated issues that can chip away at trust and intimacy within relationships. 

Further, conventional wisdom about relationships would lead us to believe that our partners should understand us better than anyone else. As such, we put a lot of pressure on our relationships and partners to make us feel seen and heard in ways we don’t experience elsewhere. We then end up having little tolerance for any misunderstandings or miscommunications that may arise as we’re primed to think it indicates something terrible about the health of our relationship. This thinking often causes heightened stress and uncertainty and has the unintended consequence of ultimately leading to more conflict. Relationship experts Julie and John Gottman speak specifically about mind reading in relationships. According to the Gottman Institute, “Because people aren’t automatons, you can’t read each other’s minds.” We may fantasize that our partner will know exactly what we want or need, but when we expect them to and refrain from communicating, we are going to be disappointed, and they’re going to be defensive. 


Another common source of relationship conflict is jealousy. We’ve all dealt with this feeling from time to time. And when it goes unchecked, jealousy can be a rather destructive force within relationships. It can ignite conflict and erode trust between partners. Jealousy can originate from many sources, but it is commonly rooted in insecurities, fear of loss, or perceived threats that ultimately trigger one’s attachment trauma (more on that later). That said, jealousy can increase suspicion, possessiveness, and control within relationships, whether fueled by past experiences, perceived betrayals, or unrealistic expectations. The very nature of jealousy can undermine any consideration and autonomy in a relationship, as it may cause us to resort to monitoring, interrogating, or even manipulating our partners in a misguided attempt to assuage our fears. Studies indicate that jealousy can have both positive and negative consequences for relationships. While mild jealousy may signal commitment and investment in the relationship, excessive or irrational jealousy can lead to conflict, distrust, and relationship dissatisfaction. Moreover, uncontrolled and unwarranted jealousy can hinder communication, intimacy, and emotional connection.

Betrayal Trauma:

Broken trust and betrayal trauma can inflict deep wounds within relationships, creating conflict and emotional turmoil that can be difficult to recover from. We have all heard that trust is central to the health of any relationship, and ideally, it serves as the foundation of a stable and healthy relationship. When a partner shatters trust through acts of betrayal, be it infidelity, deception, or breach of confidence, it strains the bond between partners, leaving them feeling vulnerable and disillusioned. Betrayal trauma, or the emotional impact caused by the experience of being betrayed, only amplifies these feelings. Like any experience of trauma, it heightens emotional distress and causes a range of responses like anger, resentment, withdrawal, and depression. The experience of betrayal trauma has also been known to cause a range of physical health symptoms as well such as interrupted sleep and lack of appetite/GI distress.

The aftermath of betrayal often results in a profound loss of safety and predictability, leading people to doubt their own perceptions, judgments, and worth within the relationship. The resulting emotions and thoughts can understandably be challenging to navigate, and conflict often arises as partners who choose to continue the relationship grapple with the fallout of the betrayal and begin rebuilding shattered trust and attempting to renegotiate boundaries. This is not an overnight process, however, and healing from betrayal trauma requires open communication, empathy, and a commitment to repair and restore trust over time.


Mismatched expectations also serve as a substantial source of relationship conflict, creating a disconnect between partners’ desires, needs, and aspirations. These differences could occur due to cultural backgrounds, upbringings, or personal experiences, and sadly, it is not unusual for these discrepancies to lead to misunderstandings and a great deal of hurt. Even those of us who go into relationships feeling like we’ve been honest and communicative about our expectations and hopes are still liable to find ourselves feeling surprised or even blindsided when it becomes clear that our goals don’t necessarily align with our partner’s in the way we had thought. 

When individuals enter into relationships with expectations regarding roles, responsibilities, or future plans that are at odds with their partner, it sets the stage for conflict, as these unmet expectations are bound to create friction. These differences in expectations can generate feelings of neglect or inadequacy, fueling a sense of injustice and imbalance within the relationship. Conflict arises as partners grapple with the tension between their own desires and the reality of their partner’s expectations, often resulting in arguments, power struggles, or emotional withdrawal. The differing expectations can be related to sex, quality time, emotional intimacy, future goals, and a host of other needs and wants.

Problematic Behaviors:

Another rather significant source of conflict within relationships is problematic behavior. This is a broad term, and the behaviors could encompass a wide range of actions, such as dishonesty, manipulation, aggression, substance misuse, or neglect. All of these behaviors can create dysfunction and unhealthy relational dynamics. They can compromise established trust between partners, making them feel emotionally (and at times physically) unsafe and disrespected. These behaviors commonly stem from unresolved personal issues, communication breakdowns, or learned behavior patterns, and they can be particularly hard to change. 

Some people might have spent a while trying to change or completely stop certain behaviors within their relationships. When these behaviors keep returning and causing conflicts, they might feel hurt, invalidated, or unappreciated. Dealing with this repeated cycle can be draining, and it might lead all parties to think about how these behaviors affect their well-being and the relationship’s future. Breaking these patterns often requires professional help to understand why these harmful behaviors persist and to learn ways to make positive changes in how you interact with each other.


Our relationships with money are often complex and unexamined. People can be sensitive about money in any context, and this is especially true of romantic relationships. The pressure on partners to navigate complicated financial decisions, reconcile differing spending habits, and consolidate varied priorities can create tension and cause fights. Disagreements over budgeting, saving, debt management, or long-term financial goals can strain communication and cause us to doubt our partners. Add to this the everyday financial stressors that we face in our daily lives, such as job loss, unexpected expenses, or unequal earning power, and these tensions and feelings of insecurity and resentment are only heightened.

Additionally, financial conflicts in relationships can represent other issues beyond monetary concerns. For many, these issues reflect underlying differences in values, attitudes, and power dynamics within the relationship. Conflict then occurs as partners clash over the implications of their financial decisions on their lifestyle, future prospects, and overall well-being.

How Does Conflict in a Relationship Impact Your Physical and Mental Health?

As humans, we need each other and tend to fare better when we are connected and supported by each other. This is reflected in the research on romantic relationships, too. According to research, married individuals report higher satisfaction with life and experience better blood pressure regulation than single individuals. Additionally, individuals in high-quality marriages exhibit lower ambulatory blood pressure (ABP), reduced stress levels, decreased depression symptoms, and higher satisfaction with life. And the quality of the relationship matters. Unmarried individuals have lower ABP compared to individuals in low-quality marriages. When conflict is frequent and unresolved in a relationship, it may negatively impact your physical health instead of benefitting you. 

Other research further supports the negative health impacts of conflict in romantic relationships. The study reports that unresolved conflict can cause sleep disturbances, which can have many additional health consequences. Another study found that unresolved and stressful conflict in romantic relationships can also negatively impact our gut, weakening the lining of our intestines.

Conflict in a relationship can have significant repercussions on mental health, often exacerbating stress, anxiety, and depression. And prolonged exposure to conflict can work to effectively erode self-esteem and foster feelings of inadequacy, guilt, or shame. As previously mentioned, conflict may also trigger trauma responses or exacerbate pre-existing mental health conditions, intensifying symptoms and challenging established coping mechanisms. If left unaddressed for long enough, chronic relationship conflict can create an overwhelming sense of helplessness, hopelessness, and despair that can keep us from being able to see a way forward or even out of the relationship. Humans are highly adaptable, even to dysfunction, and it’s not unusual for many of us to eventually accept this constant state of conflict in our relationships. 

How Does Our Attachment Style Impact How We Respond to Conflict?

Our ability to address conflict is influenced by many factors, including our experience of attachment trauma and the ways that we were socialized to relate to those closest to us. 

Of course, not everyone has an insecure attachment to their primary caregivers. For those that do, that initial childhood attachment trauma can profoundly impact the ways individuals grow up to tolerate and navigate conflict within relationships. Rooted in early experiences of relational rupture, neglect, or abuse, attachment trauma can shape one’s beliefs, behaviors, and emotional responses to conflict. Individuals with insecure attachment styles, such as anxious or avoidant attachment styles, may exhibit maladaptive coping mechanisms and heightened reactivity during conflict, which can amplify distress and interfere with communication. As this study and many others can attest, attachment trauma can also foster a fear of abandonment or rejection, leading individuals to perceive conflict as a threat to the relationship’s stability and their sense of safety.

Consequently, individuals may resort to defensive strategies, such as withdrawal, aggression, or people-pleasing, in an attempt to protect themselves from further emotional harm. Sadly, without working to heal this attachment trauma, it can be incredibly challenging to establish secure attachment bonds within a relationship. By addressing attachment-related wounds through therapy, self-awareness, and compassionate communication, individuals can cultivate healthier relational dynamics, build resilience, and ultimately navigate conflict more effectively.

How Can We Resolve Things When We Are Fighting?

Given the different factors that lead to conflict and that each of us enters our relationships with our own attachment traumas, expectations of what a relationship can look like, and baggage, it’s no wonder that conflict is a given in relationships and can be hard to navigate. Research can offer us some tips for better conflict resolution, which is way better than just trying to let things go and having the same issue show up again (and again).  

  • Cultivate understanding: 

Often, when we are in conflict with our partners, all we want is for them to hear and understand us. And yet, we stopped listening to and trying to understand them. 

To work through conflict, we must nurture mutual respect, vulnerability, and compassionate communication. Central to this process is cultivating awareness and sensitivity to each other’s triggers, past experiences, and emotional needs. Actively listening without judgment, seeking to understand each other’s perspectives, and validating each other’s emotions will encourage partners to treat one another with more empathy. 

One of the techniques the Gottmans suggest to help with understanding and listening is to write down what your partner is saying to help you process and stay attuned. Research supports that active listening can also help us understand our partners and help our partners feel understood. Active listening includes nonverbal involvement on the listener’s part, refraining from judgment, and paraphrasing what your partner is saying. In times of conflict, this type of engagement may not fix the underlying problem, but it can help us better envision it. 

Ultimately, we cannot navigate conflict with our partners if we don’t try to understand what they want to communicate and what they are experiencing. 

  • Know Yourself

Understanding yourself and your triggers, needs, and communication style is essential in navigating relationship conflict. Reflecting on your own experiences, beliefs, and attachment patterns can provide insight into why specific issues may activate a strong emotional reaction or cause recurring conflicts with your partner. Learn about your emotions, identify your needs, and explore which boundaries work best for you so you can care for yourself and help your partner understand your experience, too. This self-awareness can help you communicate more effectively and assertively. Recognizing your contributions to conflicts and taking responsibility for your actions can also promote accountability and mutual understanding within the relationship. By knowing yourself, you can navigate conflicts with greater insight and compassion, strengthening your relationship.

Knowing yourself can also help you emotionally regulate and prevent escalation. Recognizing when you need to take a break and step away, when you need to engage in self-soothing exercises, and when you’re ready to re-engage productively with your partner becomes more accessible when you have come to comprehend your internal landscape.

  • Communicate With Care:

Learning to communicate effectively and honestly during conflict in relationships involves balancing truthfulness with empathy, tact, and kindness to establish an environment of understanding and emotional safety. It requires creating a space where both partners feel empowered to express their thoughts, feelings, and needs openly and without fear of judgment or reprisal—tempering this honesty and sensitivity to one another’s vulnerabilities and insecurities, ensuring that communication remains constructive and affirming rather than hurtful or accusatory. Practice validating your partner when they share their feelings so they can convey their experience respectfully and compassionately. This can foster deeper understanding and connection and hopefully prevent defensiveness. Prioritizing honesty with an emphasis on centering kindness is vital to creating a relationship where individuals can navigate conflicts with integrity and maintain, if not strengthen their bond. 

Speaking about our feelings and experiences and acknowledging our lens and perspective can transform communication. When we are in conflict, speaking to the specific incidence or statement instead of talking more universally, reviewing how we interpreted what was said or done, naming how we are feeling (which requires us to understand how we are feeling), and then finally communicating what would help in the future, offers a clear structure for communicating. While this can be difficult to imagine or feel forced when it’s not how we are used to communicating, it can also become more accessible over time, grease the wheels, and help us get through conflict together.

  • Remember That You Are on The Same Team

During conflict, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that you and your partner are working towards the same goals: a happy, healthy relationship built on love and mutual respect. Reminding yourselves that you’re on the same team can help shift the focus from adversarial to collaborative. Rather than viewing each other as opponents to be defeated, approach conflict as an opportunity to work together. This mindset encourages empathy, cooperation, and a shared sense of purpose, fostering a supportive and united front against external challenges. By prioritizing your relationship’s well-being and collective goals, you can navigate conflicts with a spirit of unity, understanding, and resilience.

  • Seek Additional Support

Learning how to navigate disagreements in ways that feel safe to maintain trust and intimacy is a worthwhile goal but may be difficult to access when you’re both struggling. While we hope the above tips can help, sometimes we need outside support, too, and that’s okay. Licensed therapists can help you find ways to set ground rules for constructive conflict resolution, learn to take breaks when tensions rise, and develop healthier communication. Reaching out for support demonstrates a commitment to the health and well-being of your partnership. A neutral third party, such as a therapist or counselor, can offer objective insights, facilitate constructive communication, and provide tools to address underlying issues effectively. 

Creating and sustaining a healthy relationship is worthwhile and attainable, but it may not be easy. Navigating conflict in relationships is a multifaceted journey requiring self-awareness, empathy, and open communication. While conflict is a natural part of any partnership, it doesn’t have to be a roadblock. In fact, it can be an opportunity for growth and deeper connection. If you find yourselves facing recurring conflicts or feeling stuck in your relationship, know that you’re not alone. We’ve helped countless couples navigate similar challenges and emerge stronger together. Don’t hesitate to reach out for support and guidance. Your relationship deserves the investment, and we’re here to help you every step of the way.

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