Your relationship has the potential to become stronger through conflict. Many people don’t know that healthy relationships go through different growth transitions, and most of these transitions are marked by some form of tension. The issue is when people expect their relationship to remain just as it was at the beginning: perfect and with zero conflict. When this doesn’t happen, people think it means you’ve chosen the wrong partner. This simply is not true.
Conflict is a necessary element of every healthy relationship. There is no world in which conflict in relationships doesn’t exist. You and your partner bring entirely different experiences to your relationship, even if you grew up in the same city with similar backgrounds.
Marriage requires us to look deep into ourselves and to try to understand our conflict. As the psychologist and couples expert Harville Hendrix explains, “conflict is growth trying to happen.” Part of the work of being in a long-term, committed relationship is learning how to navigate through those differences together rather than running from them.
When we experience conflict in our relationships, we often go into defense mode. We hide behind a wall, withholding our thoughts and feelings from our partner. Or, we might do the opposite and let loose our frustration and anger on others by blaming or shaming them.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself when you are experiencing conflict in your relationship:
How is this conflict an opportunity for me to grow?
How can I stretch myself to practice more patience, tolerance, or assertiveness about my own needs and wants?
How can I move through this conflict with respect for myself and my partner, rather than letting the energy of my emotions steer the ship?
What might my partner be experiencing right now that has become difficult for him or her to communicate to me?
What else can I do to be the change I want to see in my relationship?
Here are two tips you can begin implementing right now to navigate through conflict differently:
- Take time-outs.
In the heat of an argument, consider calling it when you know you aren’t at your best. The key here is to call the time-out for yourself and not for your partner. It’s not about being their parent; it’s about giving yourself the chance to bring your best to the conversation. Calling a time-out is meant to provide you with time to break away, bring your mind and body back to a rational state, and return to the conversation at a later time.
- Use I-Statements.
I-Statements allow you to communicate anything (and everything!) you are experiencing in a way that takes responsibility for your own thoughts, feelings, and needs. Instead of saying “You never act like you care about helping around the house!” you might say “It’s important for me to feel like we are a team and are taking care of the house together. Can we talk about how we can do that?” In this way, you share your concerns without sounding accusatory.
Learning to use conflict as a way to grow can re-frame your entire experience of marriage. Finding a new partner will not solve the conflict you face. Running from conflict only freezes it in place.
If you practice patience, respectful communication, and asserting your feelings and needs, you will experience conflict as an avenue for more connection between yourself and your partner. You will discover that the more you practice healthy ways of moving through conflict, the more you will see your relationship flourish and grow.
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