Have you and your partner have been bickering or full on fighting more than ever? No matter what you do to try and resolve it, you’re encountering the same thing time and time again. And now you’re worried that it might mean something bigger about your relationship.
Conflict in relationships can be a messy, confusing issue. You can probably relate to just wanting to get along with your partner without any tension or fighting. In this video I answer the age-old question – is it okay for couples to fight? The answer might surprise you, so keep watching!
Hi everyone, I’m Laura Brown from Heart & Oak Therapy, supporting better, brighter lives. We’re therapists who do regular videos on mental wellness, and give practical ideas and tips to make your life happier and more fulfilling – so hit the subscribe button to keep in the loop!
Conflict can look different for every couple. For some, it’s a quiet, private event, with little verbal communication exchanged. For others, it can be pretty heated, with each partner asserting their point of view to be “right”. Usually there’s feelings of annoyance, frustration, anger, and or hurt – which people respond to in lots of different ways.
Just to clarify, when I refer to conflict, I’m talking about people in relationships not getting along. Although sometimes these things get confused for one another, I’m NOT referring to violence or abuse, which is a fundamentally different issue altogether. I’m happy to make a video clarifying the difference between fighting and violence or abuse another time.
The issues behind a conflict can be just about anything – anything that you and your partner may have a different belief, feeling, or opinion on. It’s usually about something that matters to one or both of you, and a point of difference or disagreement.
Regardless of how you disagree or what you disagree over, some couples can find it really draining to experience a lot of conflict, and you might be wondering what it means about your relationship if and when you do fight.
Well, let’s dive in and explore the ins and outs of conflict.
So, if you’re like a lot of people, you might presume that a healthy relationship is one where you get along all the time, and that fighting is the worst thing for your relationship.
While I can understand the appeal of never fighting, I think it’s totally unrealistic to expect to have conflict-free relationship. Because you and your partner are two people with different life experiences and perspectives, conflict is bound to arise!
The way me and a lot of relationship experts see it, conflict itself isn’t a problem, it’s how you respond to conflict that matters. In fact, I would argue that it can be problematic to continuously avoid having conflict when there’s an issue to address.
Why, you may ask? Because avoiding conflict doesn’t mean that there aren’t issues like hurt feelings or resentments to address. Engaging in conflict constructively can actually help us clear the air and become even closer.
Avoiding conflict can be a fast track to resentment because you aren’t able to come to a place of resolution. Resentment can act like a dead, silent weight on a relationship that can eat away at the love you share.
Speaking of resentment, not only is it more likely to hang around when we avoid conflict, it can also build when you and your partner do engage in conflict, but struggle to find resolution. When conflict is half-heartedly dropped because it seems impossible to talk through it, nothing changes in the long term.
So how can couples fight in helpful and constructive ways?
First, get a sense of whether or not you, as a couple, struggle when it comes to conflict. Do you or your partner avoid fighting like the plague by keeping concerns to yourself, or withdrawing when your partner raises an issue, or saying what you think the other person wants to hear? Does one of you get aggressive or defensive even before anyone has said something hurtful? My main point here is: assess how you respond to issues in the relationship.
Having a clearer sense of how things tend to go wrong when it comes to fighting in your relationship can give you an idea of what to do about it. Depending on the situation, it can be as simple as being mindful of what you say and do when issues come up. But sometimes it’s less straightforward, like when it’s clear that there are personal issues that need to be worked through before the conflict gets easier. In cases like that, it can help to reach out to a therapist or to do some personal work in your own way.
A third helpful tip is to be aware of your energy levels when engaging with challenging issues together. Ask yourselves what energy you each have to openly and compassionately address the real issues. This is an opportunity for you both to respect where you’re at, and understand that both low and charged emotions can make it hard to work together as a team.
When you feel that you’re in a space to openly hear one another, you can begin by exploring each of your feelings about past or present hurts, and listen openly to what your partner has to say about it. What was it like for you during that conflict? How did you feel when it was happening?
And this brings me to one more tip: work on really listening to your partner. This means listening without interrupting, without forming a rebuttal, without judgment, and without defensiveness. It means being curious without making assumptions. Practice asking questions that help you understand your partner’s perspective, rather than arguing against them, or, on the other hand, telling them what you think they want to hear.
So, it isn’t really about whether or not you and your partner have conflict in your relationship. What counts is how you respond and engage with it.
When conflict is used as an exercise to learn about one another and demonstrate love, compassion, and respect, conflict resolution can be a great opportunity to grow together. Getting to this place is possible if you both invest the time and energy to do things a little bit differently.
Now turning it over to you, the heart and oak community: What do you think about fighting in relationships? What are some ways you’ve experienced it helping or hindering your own connection with partners? Let us know in the comment section!
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Take care until next time, and keep doing the things that help you live a better, brighter life!