The Powerful Downside to Unresolved Conflict

We’ve all had arguments and disagreements with people that leave us angry, upset and in search of revenge. I saw this recently whilst trying to negotiate an agreement for a client with somebody who had not only done a job badly for him but had caused a huge amount of stress and anxiety at a very difficult time in his life. Whilst my client was more than willing to find a reasonable solution, despite how he felt, the other was not. In fact, his response was denial, followed by silence.

This approach may have its advantages in certain situations, particularly if you know that the consequences of ignoring a complaint will not impact you negatively. However, what it will do is anger your opponent. The conflict will continue, if not in silence then in determination. It will leave them with a sense of frustration, a desire to punish you and a need to reinforce their self-esteem which has probably been damaged by what they may perceive as a lack of respect.

How do you know when conflict Is unresolved?

In legal disputes, parties often settle with an agreed amount of money which draws a line under future court action. There is nothing wrong with this and some disputes are only about financial loss suffered by one party. It cuts legal costs, puts a stop to the uncertainty of knowing how a judge will decide a case and it allows the parties to move on. 

This might not deal with the powerful emotions that arise out of the conflict. I’ve lost count of the times a client has been angered when one of their contractors doesn’t pay and even though this is a purely commercial arrangement, they still take it personally, seeing it sometimes as a distressing and disrespectful act. In my experience, money just represents power, approval, self-esteem, respect and a whole host of other needs and emotions.

Sometimes, what you really want is an apology, the chance to tell the other person how hurt you feel so that you can move on. You might even want to repair a damaged relationship by saying sorry yourself.

In short, unresolved conflict means that your needs or the other person’s are still being ignored or neglected which results in feeling more negative emotions about this.

Key Signs

You know when conflict is resolved properly because you feel satisfied. Here are a few key signs:

  • The anger you once felt has gone;
  • You can now put things into perspective;
  • You can recognise the lessons you have learnt from the conflict;
  • The conflict no longer engages you as it’s boring;
  • It’s not the first, second, third or fourth thing you think about;
  • You feel very certain that you can move on with your relationship or without it.

What happens if conflict is unresolved

The power of unresolved conflict lies in the emotional hold it has over you. It can stop you from enjoying life because you are constantly angry, sad, grieving or yearning for closure.  It can also badly affect your self-esteem and leave you feeling disappointed with how you and the other person has behaved. In those highly emotional states, making wise decisions may be impossible!

Conflict can arise out of several perceptions that have no basis other than past experiences. Without a willingness to constructively communciate or listen to the other person, you will continue to live with certain beliefs which may not apply to every individual.

In those highly emotional states, making wise decisions may be impossible!

Resolving Conflict Properly

Good solutions that last consist of practical, agreed and creative ways of satisfying everyone’s needs and interests. This can only really be achieved through assertive communication which expresses without blame, how you feel, which needs are not being satisfied and what you both need to do to address them. This is a problem that you both need to resolve so that you both benefit.

Staying quiet or reacting aggressively will only allow the conflict to continue, damage the relationship beyond repair and keep you in a state of emotional deadlock. The aim is to disentangle yourself from those emotions and find a sense of clarity that helps you recognise what you need to do to find peace.

What impact has unresolved conflict had on you? Leave a comment!


  • My significant other is a stonewaller. Or at least with me , he is. I have been shut out so many times.. no conflict is ever resolved when I am the hurt/ angry party.. He simply refuses to discuss or address the matter in any way.. He goes on about life as if the conflict doesn’t exist now and never existed.. I carry tons of resentment.. it has ruined the relationship


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  • My brother is a stonewaller too. I express myself and he ignores me. There can never be a resolution with somebody like this. It takes two to express themselves to communicate. All he’s expressing non verbally is shut up and leave it alone or go away. I’m near to going away and not bothering with that relationship ever again. My relationship with his children is all that’s keeping me hanging in there for now. I don’t know how long that will last because it’s so painful for me. We grew up in a very traumatic family and this was my brothers way of coping there and it hasn’t changed, i doubt it ever will unless he engages in therapy which he believes is only for mad people like me! I know that I’m not mad. I hold on because I know he’s a good man but he’s no good at conflict resolution. I find the coldness of being shut down extremely painful and I’m close to walking away. It’s very depressing and I’m near to walking away to protect myself but I know that there will be a tremendous grief if I do, so I’m caught between a rock and a hard place for now. Stonewalling does ruin relationships. I wonder how you are getting on in your relationship now?


    • The Conflict Expert

      Hi Michelle, for me , the silent treatment is one of the hardest conflict resolution strategies to deal with. It feels like a punishment but the truth is, it’s a very disempowered way to communicate. The only advice i can give is go protect yourself when you need to by getting some distance. Try to identify patterns i.e. does he stone wall in response to certain subjects and is there a time line? When does he stop? You can’t control him but you can manage your own response. Wishing you well, Francesca


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