When it comes to relationship conflict, my partner Phillip and I have been to Hell and back, just like many other rock-solid couples. In the five-plus years we’ve been together, we’ve bickered over stupid things, like where to transplant flowers in our backyard, or what’s considered recyclable in a brown paper bag of crap we amassed over the last several weeks.
We’ve also had our share of telenovela-style fights that seemed to lead to the end of days in our relationship, but we persevered because we thought our relationship was worth it.
The point is that many people in anxious and insecure relationships (including me many years ago) think conflict signals the end of their courtship, as if the ground is cracking open to swallow everyone into hot lava.
A major disagreement seems insurmountable, like climbing a tall mountain during a winter storm, or traversing the desert under the blazing hot sun. Constant bickering seems unhealthy for the foundation you’ve created, like death by a thousand cuts.
And it’s totally understandable that one would panic over even the smallest doses of conflict. From our upbringings to media messaging (such as from Disney movies and rom coms), many of us were conditioned to think that an Instagram-perfect relationship is all smiles, hearts, butterflies, rainbows, and barf-inducing puppy dog nicknames and public displays of affection against a backdrop of fireworks and sunsets.
But like I’ve written before, conflict can be like the leafy greens you need for a healthy relationship. The more you exercise that muscle, the better shape you’re in going forward. You remember that you’ve been in this situation before, so you can figure your way out of the escape room, together.
How Much Is Too Much Conflict (or Too Little)?
“Going through periods of high conflict is completely normal,” psychologists Rob Pascale, PhD and Lou Primavera, PhD write. “It happens to virtually all couples, and we’re probably no worse or better than others in this regard. In fact, although we never really know what goes on behind closed doors, there’s an excellent chance that the couples in our social circle argue as often and as intensely as we do, and maybe even more, all appearances to the contrary.”
Conflict is different per couple, including how each person approaches it. As I’ve written before, Phillip is used to confrontation, while I entered our relationship enjoying dramatic exits like actress Kristen Bell did at the beginning of her relationship with actor Dax Shepard (but she and I both had to learn to stop blowing off our men like that).
Little to no conflict could mean the relationship won’t last. For example, I know someone who claims her marriage didn’t last because she and her ex never fought, which could mean they didn’t know how to communicate in times of trouble.
On the flip side, if you feel abused or trapped like a caged animal, or if you feel generally shitty about your relationship (as opposed to feeling generally peaceful), then chances are you need to break open that cage to set yourself free so you can find a better mate.
“There actually is a relationship between how much fighting goes on and the psychological health of the relationship and its partners,” Pascale and Primavera continue. “When arguing is excessive, especially if these arguments never result in solved problems or end on a positive note, the evidence suggests there’s a good chance the relationship will not last.”
But here’s a detail about which I don’t often see written: since I argue that relationships (like life) are more of a marathon than a sprint, sometimes it takes a while to resolve major problems. It’s like a jury taking a break (or several) during a major trial. You might not solve your problems in one evening at the dinner table (and I’m speaking from experience). Sometimes you need sleep and time to work out your feelings before reconvening.
Like I said, conflict is different per couple, so you’ll find your sweet spot. If you stay on topic during an argument, practice empathy, communicate early and often, and avoid personal attacks (such as by using “I” statements, like “I feel hurt when you say that”) and rehashing old issues, then conflict between you and your partner will likely be much more manageable, sort of like your daily routine. (Really? Yup, really!)
If the time is right and you need help leaving your relationship anxiety and insecurity behind for some delectable peace of mind, then hit me up here and I’ll be in touch ASAP.
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