How Important is Conflict Resolution in Teen Romantic Relationships?

Couples who resolve conflicts constructively tend to have higher levels of relationship satisfaction than couples who engage in heated and unproductive conflicts. In adult relationships, learning how to fight fairly and argue respectively are important skills that can affect each partner’s level of commitment and satisfaction within the relationship. A large body of research has shown that effective and respectful communication and recovery from conflict can improve a couple’s chances of thriving.

Couples with poor conflict resolution skills are at increased risk for divorce or separation. But how does this same skill affect adolescent relationships? During adolescence, teens begin to experiment with romantic relationships. They learn how to trust another person and share their emotions, time, and physical self with that person. They also learn how to resolve conflicts. Therefore, it could be assumed that behaviors demonstrated in these budding relationships could be as indicative of relationship success as behaviors of more mature relationships.

To test this theory, Thao Ha of the Department of Developmental Psychopathology at Radboud University in the Netherlands recently led a study that examined how adolescent romantic partners behaved during conflicts, and how this affected the future of their relationships. Ha analyzed self-reports and observer reports from 80 teenage couples over a four year period, looking specifically at the dynamics that existed during conflicts and the emotional states that resulted from those conflicts. The findings revealed that teenage couples with adaptive conflict skills had no better chance of staying together than those without. This result was unexpected and in contrast to research on adult relationships.

There are several possible explanations for these findings. First, in middle adolescence, teens are just beginning to discover romantic love. Adolescent couples do not measure relationship satisfaction in the same way that mature couples do. Rather than focusing on long-term commitment and shared goals, younger couples may be more concerned with peer acceptance and intimate encounters.

“Over time, as the relationship goals change to support long-term commitments, conflict resolution and recovery might be more significant in defining relationship satisfaction and would therefore relate to breakups,” said Ha. Also, many young teenagers are still discovering their own sexual and romantic identities, and have no motivation to pursue or maintain long-term commitments.

Although these results do not clearly demonstrate what leads to break-ups in adolescent relationships, further work should explore this topic as many teens experience significant negative outcomes, including depression and anxiety, when a romantic relationship ends.

Ha, T., Overbeek, G., Lichtwarck-Aschoff, A., Engels, R.C.M.E. (2013). Do conflict resolution and recovery predict the survival of adolescents’ romantic relationships? PLoS ONE 8(4): e61871. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0061871

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  • Helen


    May 10th, 2013 at 6:10 PM

    Hello- at the heart of all of this we have to remember that these are children. No matter how sophisticated or mature they may seem, they aren’t and they don’t have the level of skill necessary to behave like adults yet in any relationship.

  • Lambert


    May 10th, 2013 at 11:27 PM

    From myown experiences-young couples are not matured enough to handle relationships..When I saw that the study was over a 4 year period my first thought was “How many couples even lasted that long?!”

    The thing to understand here is that although one partner may be matured enough in such relationships it is very hard to find a couple where both partners are matured at such an age.That is the reason for no improvement even with adaptive conflict skills.

  • andY


    May 11th, 2013 at 5:12 AM

    These kids today try to rush in and do too much too soon- that’s the biggest problem that I see. many of them are too caught up in their hormones and this is what they are confusing for love!

  • Kenneth dawes

    Kenneth dawes

    May 13th, 2013 at 4:05 AM

    I don’t necessraily believe that if a young couple can resolve their own conflicts in a healthy way that this means that they will stay together forever.

    But what I do believe is that having the skills to avoid or resolve conflict is going to serve them well in life, and it might even ensure that the teens are not violent with one another and creating an abusive relationship which can so often be seen in teen romances.

    They might have to continue to home their skills as the get into more adult and mature relationships later on, but at least their early conflict resolution skills give them something positive to build upon instead of bad older habits to fall back on.

  • Penny


    May 14th, 2013 at 12:20 AM

    Conflict?Move to your next relationship! That is how things work in my school at least. Guess that is the reason why helpful resolution plays no role in determining the future of a relationship. Because conflict often means the end!

  • William Smith

    William Smith

    June 21st, 2013 at 4:36 AM

    Teens do not know what an actual relationship is or what is real love, that is the main problem. But yes, break up of a relationship can badly affect their mind. But a good teen therapy can help.

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