bad-tempered caucasian business executive yelling at two asian subordinates in office. Image Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

There is no relationship without conflict and this is not necessarily bad. After all, two people can’t be expected to agree on everything all the time. Everyone needs to feel understood, nurtured and supported, but the ways in which these needs are met vary widely. Differing needs for feeling comfortable and safe create challenges in our personal and professional relationships.

Think about the conflicting need for safety and continuity versus the need to explore and take risks. We frequently see this conflict between toddlers and their parents. The child’s need is to explore, so the street or the cliff meets a need. But the parents’ need is to protect the child’s safety, so limiting exploration becomes a bone of contention between them.

The needs of both parties play an important role in the long term success of most relationships. A lack of understanding about differing needs can result in distance, arguments and break ups. In workplace conflicts, differing needs are often at the heart of bitter disputes, sometimes resulting in broken deals, fewer profits and lost jobs. When we can recognise the legitimacy of conflicting needs and are willing to examine them in an environment of compassionate understanding, it opens pathways to creative problem solving, team building and improved relationships.

On the contrary, a relationship with no apparent conflict may be unhealthier than one with frequent conflicts. Conflicts are critical events that can either weaken or strengthen a relationship. It can be productive, creating deeper understanding, closeness and respect, or it could also be destructive, cause resentment, hostility and divorce.

One may view conflicts in relationships as demoralising, humiliating, dangerous and something to fear. If early life experiences also left one feeling out of control and powerless, conflict may even be traumatising. It’s not the number of conflicts that occur, rather how the conflicts get resolved that is the critical aspect in determining whether a relationship will be healthy or unhealthy, mutually satisfying or unsatisfying, friendly or unfriendly, deep or shallow, intimate or cold.

What is the way out then? The answer lies in the principle of love – falling in love – which is eternal and without expectations, ready to sacrifice anything for the sake of love. Get into the shoes of others with whom the conflict is with and try to understand with an open and unbiased mind where the differences, disagreements and the consequent conflict arises. Albert Einstein said: “You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew.”

- The reader is chartered accountant, based in Dubai.