WRITTEN BY Felicia Kashevaroff
Many couples assume that a happy, healthy relationship means that there will be no disagreements, no arguments, and no problems to solve. The reality is that conflict is a normal and natural part of any relationship, even in healthy ones.
John Gottman, a renowned relationship researcher, has shown that 69% of conflict in romantic relationships is unsolvable. This means that couples will inevitably encounter issues that cannot be fully resolved, no matter how much they try. Conflict is not something to be feared or avoided. Knowing this, conflict can be an opportunity to learn more about your partner and deepen your relationship.
It’s also normal and healthy to experience emotions when in conflict. Anger, frustration, sadness, and disappointment are all normal and natural responses. However, it is important to name those emotions and share them with your partner. This can help your partner understand where you are coming from and what you need from them.
In addition to sharing your emotions, it is also helpful to share the “story” you are making up about what this disagreement means in your relationship. Often, we create stories in our heads about what our partner’s behavior means or what it says about our relationship. Sharing these stories with your partner can help you both gain a better understanding of each other’s perspectives.
An example of these two concepts in action might be, “I feel sad when you consistently come home from work late. I make up a story that you don’t value our time together at the end of the day. Can you explain what is happening for you?”
Remember that there is almost always some truth in what your partner is saying, even if you disagree with them wholeheartedly otherwise. Try to identify even the tiniest nugget of truth and ask your partner about it with curiosity. Let them share more and try to understand their perspective.
In our example, perhaps your partner said, “To be honest, I’m so worried about my upcoming performance review that I wasn’t thinking about the impact of coming home late on our time together, I just want to prove to my boss that I’m a team player.” You might think that’s a crock of shit and you could use that to fuel your story that your partner doesn’t prioritize your time together. OR, you could acknowledge the truth in your partner’s stress about their upcoming performance review and brainstorm together how to manage expectations until the review is over.
I know this is hard. It’s going to take practice and emotional maturity to undo our old patterns in conflict. But it’s also modeling to your partner how to treat you when you’re the one who is stressed out and overwhelmed and perhaps not being the thoughtful partner you want to be.
In conclusion, conflict is a normal and natural part of any relationship, even in healthy ones. It can be an opportunity to learn more about your partner, deepen your relationship, and find solutions to issues that may arise. By sharing your emotions, stories, and perspectives with your partner, and by actively listening to their thoughts and feelings, you can navigate conflict in a way that strengthens your relationship and allows you both to grow together.