Conflict in relationships is a necessity for growth. It is in conflict that we really get to ‘see’ our partner and, while sometimes it’s not pretty, we need to be able to acknowledge and validate our differences, even though we don’t have to agree with the other person. This enables us to move through conflict rather avoiding or staying stuck in it.
Many people have the idea that conflict is a bad thing or means the relationship is a bad one; it means ‘my partner and I shouldn’t be together’ or that‘s/he doesn’t love me’.
Yet the very act of avoiding conflict usually ends up creating more conflict in the long run. This is because the reasons for the conflict are left unresolved and get bigger, not smaller, with time.
All of us can behave badly at times. What is required is a capacity to recognise our own role in what has occurred, take responsibility for it, apologise if it’s required and acknowledge we may have created some hurt. It is this offering of the olive branch that is paramount (as is being able to receive the olive branch). This is often referred to a ‘repair attempt’. Research shows that successful couples make them; unsuccessful couples do not.
The fact that couples have conflict is a given. The problem is in how we deal with conflict as a couple that is the real issue. Consider the following questions:
• Do I ‘fight fair’? Do I keep it ‘above the belt’?
• Am I able to really listen?
• Do I create uninterrupted time and space for the important discussions?
• Can I validate and empathise with a different opinion, idea or experience?
• Am I able to get heard?
• Do I keep to the point, or do other issues ‘bleed’ in, derailing things? (This often happens when lots of issues exist but have been avoided.)
• Am I able to take a break? If I do, do I commit to returning to the issue in a reasonable time-frame?
• As a couple, do we time-limit discussions and quarantine the conflict so it doesn’t have a whole-relationship impact?
So the overall question becomes: ‘what do I aspire to when in conflict?’. A relationship counsellor can help couples understand this better and work through conflict – the bad and the good.