All couples have conflict! It is a natural and often useful thing. It helps each person realize who they are and what is important to them in life and in relationship. When done correctly it strengthens and deepens a relationship. When done incorrectly, the tremors created by repeated conflict weaken and eventually collapse the foundations of a relationship. Here are some helpful rules that encourage healthy conflict.
- Don’t fight to win. If either partner wins the relationship loses.
- Do fight for understanding and connection.
- Recognize the type of problem causing conflict! There are 2 basic types of problems in long term relationships. The first is a process problem. This type of problem requires time and the formation of a strategy to address and refine an ongoing approach to a problem. It is an process that addresses a chronic and reoccurring problem. The second type of problem is an action problem. This type of problem has a readily available solution. A simple action will permanently solve the problem.
- Process solutions are enacted over time throughout the life of a relationship. An example of this might be “My mother in law is controlling about holiday celebrations”. This problem kind of problem must be dealt with as a couple. Each year brings another opportunity to solve this problem through limit setting, compromise and endurance. A dollop of humor may help as well!
- An action problem can be addressed via doing. An example might be “you promised to mow the lawn regularly and haven’ done it for 3 weeks. Possible solutions? You might hire a service or cut down on socializing on the weekend. Action solutions are easier and simpler to come by, but most relationship problems require process solutions.
That’s why it’s so important to argue for understanding and connection instead of arguing to win! We sometimes believe that everything our partner does or says means something about the way she or he feels about us or the relationship. The truth is that most of what people do is about them! It is helpful to have curiosity about what your partner is doing or what s/he is upset about rather than being offended that s/he doesn’t feel or think the way you do.
One of the most extraordinary gifts of a relationship is being able to see and begin to understand the inner world of another person over the course of a relationship. It presents an opportunity to know another human being intimately and be known as a human being. It is a gift you give each other. It eases the loneliness of being a separate person.
This seems like a good place to bring up the idea of how love functions best in a relationship. Differing ideas about what it means to love can cause major conflict in a relationship. People often say that they love their partner, but what does that really mean? Usually what we mean when we say “I love you” is I love the way you make me feel about myself when we are together. This happens early in relationships.
Over time this feeling should deepen and widen so that we begin to love our partner for who they are not, just because they make us feel good about ourselves and give us what we need, but because we see who they are and love them for themselves.
Marriage and partnership is an important part of life. It has the potential to be the most rewarding or the most difficult and painful aspect of life. Doing conflict well is essential to building happiness and contentment in a relationship. Recognizing what kind of problem you are trying to solve and using the appropriate tool to solve that problem is essential. Having curiosity and humor about your partner’s inner world, makes a relationship interesting and intensely intimate. Enjoy the experience!