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Conflict is a natural and essential part of life that we encounter at the core of every relationship. Conflict per se is not a negative or positive situation. Rather, our response to it is what can make it detrimental to our relationship or transform it to a constructive experience.

This article is heavily influenced by the research published in program report “Conflict Resolution Education” by Donna Crawford and Richard Bodine (US Department of Justice/US Department of Education). However the opinions in this article also take into consideration the latest research in evolutionary psychology and may differ from the contents of the referenced program report.

Venus and Adonis 1614 by Hendrick Goltzius

Origins of Conflict

i. Basic psychological needs

American psychologist Abraham Maslow, amongst others, suggested that human behavior is motivated by basic psychological and physiological needs. Theory suggests that, basic psychological needs are at the root of almost all conflict. Dr. William Glasser theorized that a source of interrelationship conflict is the lack of fulfillment of one or more of the following psychological needs:

Belonging This need is fulfilled by being loved, loving, sharing one’s life, and cooperating with others towards the achievement of a common goal. One would encounter these in a healthy marriage or relationship. Power The need for control over others and over situations. This need is fulfilled by (one or more of) having social alignments, being recognized by your peers and community, having access to money, achieving ones goals, being respected. Freedom We all need to feel we are free to make choices. Fun Being playful, laughing, being in a state of timelessness.

ii. Limited Resources

Time, money, and property are limited resources that can be an instigator of conflict. However, conflict might not be permanently addressed if the underlying basic psychological needs are not detected and resolved. For example conflict arising due to limited monetary resources could have its underlying root to the need for power. Although the money issue might not be resolvable, still the need for power could be fulfilled by developing social alignments, or developing influence over peers. The problem might not be defined solely by the resource issue. When a solution addresses only the resource issue without addressing the underlying psychological need the problem will most likely resurface.

iii. Different Values

Conflict often arises due to differences in beliefs as they relate to values, life, priorities, convictions, and principles. Religion is a prime example. Such differences are very difficult to resolve and this is due to the nature of a belief. Here we refer to values and beliefs not reached following a process of reason (such values can be addressed with additional facts and reasonable arguments) but concepts in which we are enveloped in from our birth, concepts that we absorb with all that we touch, all that we see. These types of values are ingrained in us and require unheard-of efforts to deliver ourselves from them. Changes in this type of beliefs are possible the younger we are and assuming there are reasonable arguments against the belief.

Unfortunately, the only sure way to avoid such conflicts is to detect them prior to committing to a relationship. The first step towards resolving such a conflict is to recognize that it is a value conflict and that each person views the situation differently. To resolve such a conflict the disputants must look again for the psychological interests that underlie the belief. This approach will most likely not resolve the conflict but the recognition of the underlying motivator by the two parties will generate mutual respect.



1. Conflict Resolution Education, Donna Crawford and Richard Bodine, 1996, US Department of Justice/US Department of Education.

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