10 Reasons Why Some People Enjoy Relationship Conflict
In This Article
Conflict can generate learning and growth or pain and despair. How we deal with it paves the way for how we suffer or move on. Nevertheless, relationship conflict can be tough to manage when dealing with people who enjoy arguments and causing hurt.
What does conflict look like in a relationship?
Sadly, most of us are familiar with conflict. Whether we’ve experienced it in our families as children or at work, we all know that feeling of rage and fear.
Some might tell you that it comes from our primal instinct to protect ourselves, and others might tell you that we’re programmed by society. The reality is probably somewhere in the middle.
Either way, conflict comes from mismatched values, ethics, and expectations. Our assumptions about rules, emotions, and communication styles can lead to a clash.
In other words, how we’ve learned to cope with emotional discomfort can make us conflict avoiders or conflict engagers. Psychiatrist John Gottman further defined 3 groups of couples in his study on the roles of conflict, engagement, escalation, and avoidance in marriage.
In summary, the volatiles can be passionate but fall into a never-ending cycle of quarrels. Avoiders might temporarily stay away from pain, but in the end, they create distance and loneliness. On the other hand, the validators are calmer and more intimate.
Witnessing love conflicts among the volatiles doesn’t necessarily mean they enjoy it. Moreover, the dispute can cover anything from simple yelling to emotional abuse and physical violence. Some common causes include power plays, triggers to the ego, and fear of losing either oneself or the relationship.
The desire to protect ourselves and what we stand for is instinctual. Nevertheless, studies suggest that the patriarchal society many of us live in encourages a need for control and physical aggression.
Women can also be conflict lovers. Further studies show that as societies change and norms and values shift, men can be victims of relationship conflict.
And then you have those who thrive off conflict. They are in a different group, often referred to as High Conflict People (HCP).
10 causes of conflict enjoyment
Finding a relationship conflict resolution with conflict lovers is not easy. The first step is to better understand the causes.
As you read the following, it’s worth noting that what we enjoy and how we enjoy things differs from person to person. We all process experiences and emotions differently.
Moreover, the labels “good” and “bad” are just concepts we apply, but they are not facts.
1. High conflict people (HCP)
The High Conflict Institute describes how high conflict people come across in more detail. You can expect extreme emotions and behaviors but it isn’t a diagnosis. It’s simply a description.
Regarding those who enjoy arguments, the causes of relationship conflict often revolve around personality disorders. For example, antisocial HCPs do everything they can to avoid being dominated. If they win the fight, they are potentially briefly satisfied.
In some cases, such as for psychopaths, neuroscientist studies on psychopathy tell us that certain system dysfunction leads to a lack of empathy.
Without empathy, relationship conflict can be an intellectual challenge such that finding innovative arguments becomes enjoyable.
2. An excuse for drama
Everything we do has an inner motivation. For example, some people argue so that they can justify going on an alcohol or shopping spree. Others use it to massage their ego because they’ve dominated someone.
Narcissism is another personality disorder that usually enjoys drama. Deep down, they are extremely fearful and mask this with arrogance and conflict in romantic relationships. The short-term upside is that they feel powerful.
Related Reading: Are You Addicted to Chaos and Drama in Your Relationships?
3. Seeking to change each other
Perfectionists often create conflict in relationships. While they are sensitive to criticism, this personality trait drives many to attempt to change others.
Assuming they win their small micro-managing moments, their expectation of perfection might be met. This gives them the upside they seek and feel justified and potentially content.
Sadly, most of those feelings are usually short-lived, followed by new angst. After all, perfectionism is a defense against the pain of being a failure.
Nevertheless, a small moment of perfection, even achieved through anger, gives a momentary release from their fear and potentially a moment of enjoyment. Remember that for these people, the definition of enjoyment might be different.
4. Adrenaline and dopamine addicts
As communications expert Judith E. Glaser explains in her article “Your Brain is Hooked on Being Right,” we get flooded with addictive chemicals when we win an argument.
Essentially, when we win, we get a hit of adrenaline and dopamine which make us feel indestructible. Of course, we all want to feel like that but most of us have also learned that positive human connections are just as rewarding, if not more.
5. Escape from personal work
Unhealthy conflict isn’t something any of us should aim for, even if we’re in that group of people who seem to enjoy it. Nevertheless, the personal work to recover from mental disorders or past traumas can feel insurmountable.
Let’s also not forget that those who enjoy love conflicts might have never learned or experienced healthy conflict management. They simply don’t know anything else.
So, conflict engagers without mental disorders might not even be aware that there are other ways to handle emotions. Nor might they want to learn.
Related Reading: How to Balance Relationship and Career and Work: 10 Tips to Try
6. Everyday sadists
Another example of those who seem to enjoy relationship conflict is when you meet people who relish hurting others. In many ways, this is driven by the nature of their brains and how certain systems differ, as shown in this study on sadism.
Then again, the debate of nurture versus nature still stands with neuroscientist Jim Fallon as a prime example. In his book “The Psychopath Inside“, he describes how he discovered that he has the brain scan of a psychopath.
The difference with Jim Fallon is that he comes from a nurturing family where he learned a healthy approach to relationship conflict and how to build human connections.
7. Challenge the status quo
As mentioned, relationship conflict can be an intellectually stimulating exercise for the right person. It triggers their creativity and innovation, both of which are usually enjoyable traits.
This is where we start stepping into blurred definitions where healthy conflict management is a good thing. It’s how we grow and improve our status quo.
8. Drama is familiar
Conflict in romantic relationships is comfortable for those who grew up with a similar experience. It can also be a coping mechanism to distance themselves from the deeper pain they feel inside.
This mask gives them temporary relief and satisfaction. It’s debatable whether this is enjoyment or simple numbing. Regardless, it serves a “good” purpose in their mind.
9. Attracted to the macabre
We all have a dark side with a tendency to be drawn to bad things. Look at the media. It’s filled with terrible stories. In some ways, they make us feel good because our lives are better by contrast.
In other ways, as we’re surrounded by rage and pain, perhaps relationship conflict is only a natural extension. Sometimes we also enact what we fear, in this case, conflict, so it doesn’t control us.
As this psychology article on the “Dark Side of Beauty” explains, we all have an element of wanting to witness another person’s suffering.
10. Low empathy
Last but not least, empathy is in decline. As this study on the decline in human empathy shows, empathy has fallen by 49% between 1979 and 2009.
Whether or not this directly correlates to relationship conflict is up for debate. Regardless, why should we change if we can’t fully grasp how conflict impacts our partner? Especially if we get momentary upsides of satisfaction and feelings of power.
This video works through some useful strategies to help you regulate your emotions:
5 ways conflict impacts relationships
Most of us know that conflict causes stress and pain, but there is more to it.
1. Triggered emotions
A relationship conflict usually starts from some deep-seated fear. It might not feel like fear but conflict is a defense mechanism to protect ourselves from something.
Depending on our life experiences, we interpret that fear as abandonment, mistrust, worthlessness, powerlessness, and many more emotions.
Those emotions can overwhelm us and cause us to do things we later regret if we don’t have mature emotional regulation strategies.
2. Mental health issues
Conflict resolution in relationships also leads to mental problems such as lack of sleep as you keep churning the dispute over in your head. You can also add depression and anxiety to the list of possible impacts.
Related Reading: 10 Ways On How to Cope With Your Mental Health Issues in a Relationship
At times, conflict in relationships escalates such that things become physical, and you can end up with cuts, breaks, and bruises.
Internally, stress impacts your cardiovascular, endocrine, and immune systems. With constant disruption from stress chemicals such as cortisol, you’re more likely to develop heart disease and other ailments.
4. Impact other areas of life
Sometimes, relationship conflict is so bad that you’re completely caught up in it. You literally can’t concentrate on anything else, and your stress rubs off into other parts of your life.
For example, you might become irritable at work or with your friends. You might even find yourself yelling at your boss and wondering where that came from.
5. Alienate friends and family
All this irritability can eventually drive people away. Of course, they want to be there for you, but at some point, most people draw the line.
That’s why conflict resolution in relationships is so critical. You don’t want to be in the vicious circle of conflict and loneliness.
Related Reading: 12 Things to Never Tell Your Friends About Your Relationship
Various forms of potential conflict with your partner
The Harvard Law School defines 3 types of conflict: task, relationship, and value conflict. You could potentially apply this to the different types of relationship conflict.
For example, you argue over whose turn it is to clean the kitchen. Alternatively, you feel undervalued because your partner isn’t spending enough time with you.
Regarding values, you might disagree on how you bring up the kids or how much time you should spend with the grandparents.
For more details, have a look at this article on causes and types of relationship conflict.
Dealing with conflict in relationships
If you believe you’re dealing with a mental disorder for yourself or your spouse, try to reach out for help. Whatever it is, relationship counseling can work with you to determine the best strategies for your case.
To work on relationship conflict resolution yourself, you must get to know yourself deeply. What’s your conflict management style? How do you relate to others? What ingrained beliefs do you hold about who you are and what you expect from life?
Those aren’t easy questions to explore but the more you do, the more you’ll connect to your inner compassion. You’ll learn to forgive yourself as someone who’s just trying to learn how to live the best life.
As you gain in self-compassion, you’ll meet your partner with more compassion, and together you can gradually shift to more healthy conflict management techniques.
These include finding ways to collaborate and even accommodate rather than to compete or avoid. Some of the best strategies focus on workplace arguments, but they apply just as well in the home, as detailed in this article on resolution strategies.
1. How can conflict in a relationship be positive?
Interestingly, we need conflict, and it exists for a reason. Couples who experience healthy conflict know that it’s the way to keep challenging themselves to improve their everyday life.
There are two different people in a relationship. While they might be aligned in most things, there will still be areas where they will differ in experience and opinion. Those areas are the opportunity for discovery.
Mature couples use disagreements to deepen their knowledge of each other and to grow together even more. They fine-tune their listening and compassion skills as they problem-solve to get the best solution for them as a couple and as individuals.
2. Can you be more intimate with healthy conflict?
A healthy relationship conflict deepens your emotional bond because you get to be vulnerable together. Essentially, in a healthy approach to conflict, you share your dark side.
Your emotional connection can only deepen when you can still be compassionate towards each other and love each other despite that dark side.
3. Do healthy relationships have conflict?
Healthy conflict and mature conflict resolution in couples are both critical. Those without any disputes aren’t being honest with themselves. No two people can be so similar that they agree on everything.
It isn’t the conflict that’s the problem. It’s how you approach it and work through it.
Moving forwards with conflict in your relationship
Many causes of relationship conflict range from mental disorders to past trauma or simple defense mechanisms. Moreover, we live in a competitive society with ample opportunities for strife, including how to raise the kids and how to manage your funds.
While a small proportion of people genuinely thrive off conflict, it’s important to have a healthy approach to dealing with disagreements. When you can approach conflict resolution in couples with curiosity and compassion, you’re more likely to problem-solve successfully and peacefully.
Getting to know ourselves and finding effective ways to collaborate with our partners isn’t easy. We sometimes need relationship counseling to ground us and give us a way forward. Let’s all do what we can to bring empathy back to this world.
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