Whenever couples come to me saying they never fight, my first reaction is to wonder who’s bottling up all their frustrations. Usually, it’s both of them. Conversely, sometimes I’ll work with couples who can’t even keep track of all their old grievances. Some couples try to avoid conflict at all costs, while others treat it like a competitive sport. Conflict is inevitable—but it’s important to engage in it in a healthy way that doesn’t foster resentment and anger.
In today’s article, we’re going to explore how conflict can be part of creating a healthy relationship.
What’s the point?
In any relationship, there are going to be disagreements. Sometimes, it’s over where to get dinner; other times, it’s over the distribution of household chores. It can be petty or serious—and when conflict is handled poorly, it can leave wounds that take time to heal. With that in mind, it’s important as a couple to remember that the purpose of conflict is to solve a problem. That’s it. In a healthy relationship, we work together to resolve conflicts.
What if we don’t agree when our partner comes to us and says they feel like they’re doing more than their fair share around the house? What if they say they’re feeling neglected or unattractive because things haven’t been firing on all cylinders in the bedroom? It can be easy to feel attacked in these scenarios—and people often aren’t careful with the words they use—but even when tempers flare, conflict is almost always about resolving a pain point in the relationship.
I have this problem, and I need your help solving it.
Engaging in Healthy Conflict
The first step in engaging your partner is being respectful of their perspective. You don’t have to agree—oftentimes you won’t—but both of you should be respectful, listen closely, and do your best to understand each other’s perspectives. There are a few ways you can do this:
- Listen without interrupting.
- Repeat what your partner said to confirm you understand.
- Ask questions about how they want to solve the problem.
People famously run on a fight-or-flight instinct. When we feel criticized or attacked, our first impulse might be to storm out or go on the attack. These are natural instincts, but they won’t solve any problems.
Focus on Teamwork
While your first instinct might be to defend your perspective, consider approaching conflict from a problem-solving perspective. By making yourself part of the solution, you can help your partner see that you care about the issues they’re facing, and value their happiness. This goes a long way toward building trust.
Establish Boundaries & Expectations
You know what all sports have in common? Rules. Games, too. Structure and boundaries help us know what’s safe and what’s not. Setting clear boundaries and expectations may lead to disagreement, but relationships work better when both parties know what’s expected of them—and what sort of behavior is out of bounds.
Avoid Rehashing Arguments
Healthy conflict requires resolution. If you’re having the same argument over and over again, it’s a sign that one or both of you aren’t really listening—or aren’t keeping your word. Some grudge matches can be real bruisers. If this is happening in your relationship, consider looking into couples counseling so you have a referee.
Remember, the point isn’t to win. It’s to solve a problem. In the heat of the moment, conflict can lead to hasty words and lost tempers. Remember to check in with each other to make sure you’re both okay.
If you’re tired of blow-ups, shouting matches, and simmering with frustration over old grudges, it’s time to consider counseling. As a therapist, my first job is teaching people skills and techniques they can use to navigate their lives. Reach out today to schedule a consultation if you’re ready to learn how therapy for dating and relationship issues can make conflict a healthy part of your relationship.