Conflict, in any relationship, is inevitable.
No matter how perfect you and your partner are for one another, no matter how much you love each other, and no matter how much you usually bring out the best in each other–it’s just a fact of life. You are different people. And the differences that make you unique and special will, at some point, cause a bit of conflict. But conflict isn’t the end of the world–or the end of the relationship.
When handled well, it can be a mirror on just how strong you and your partner are as a team. Because partners who are too afraid to be vulnerable, too scared to offer up how they’re really feeling in the fear that it will cause conflict–they aren’t being honest with one another.
Conflict, when handled well between partners, shows you that you trust one another enough to be honest with each other.
(This doesn’t mean you should be screaming at your partner any time they disagree with you. Just that removing the pressure to agree and be in harmony all the time is actually a sign of strength in your team, rather than weakness. We’ll get to how to best handle conflict below).
If you’re struggling to find resolution to your relationship conflicts, remember that it is not you vs. your partner, but rather the both of you vs. the conflict.
Learning to reframe arguments and relationship tensions in this way can help remind you that you are a team–and most often, you’re a team that works well. The disagreement between you won’t be solved by playing the blame game. So take a step back and ask yourself, how can we, as a team, find a way to resolve this?
There are a few key guidelines to fighting fair in your relationship. Along with reframing the conflict as we did above, these guidelines include:
Not reacting in the heat of the moment:
It’s very easy to say something you don’t really mean in the heat of the moment. When you feel vulnerable and hurt, there can be an instinct to lash out, to try to hurt the other person back. But reacting in anger probably won’t help you find a resolution. Instead take some time to calm down, to release your feelings on your own (in a journal, vent to a friend, talk about it in therapy, etc.) before confronting your partner. Then when you’ve both had a chance to cool down, come back together and work from a place of wanting to solve the problem instead of wanting to react to it.
You can say something like, “I’m very upset right now and I know that it’s important that we talk about this. But I’m feeling too hurt to work through this right now. Let’s each take some time to cool down before coming back together to figure this out.” Make it clear that solving this problem is a priority to you–but that you need some space to work through your own feelings first.
Reminding yourself that you’re both trying your best:
Just as you are trying your best, so is your partner. They likely didn’t set out to hurt you (just as you wouldn’t set out to hurt them). But we all react differently to things. Remind yourself that you’re both on the same team. And if you both commit to understanding one another, you probably can solve whatever problem you are facing.
Being as honest as possible:
Your partner can’t read your mind. Even if it feels like they understand you better than anyone else, they can only respond to what you tell them. When something upsets you, tell them. Remind yourself that they didn’t set out to upset you, but that they need to know about it going forward. Keeping things in to avoid conflict isn’t actually avoiding the conflict after all–it’s just keeping it within yourself.
Give them a chance to be a part of the conversation:
Just like they can’t read your mind, you can’t read theirs. So, don’t work out what you’re going to say based on how you want them to react. Be truthful and honest, and trust that they also want to resolve the conflict. And ask them to be truthful with you too. You might say, “I know we both want to work through this. The only way that will happen is if we allow ourselves to be open and honest, no matter how scary it might feel. I trust that you don’t want to hurt me on purpose, so I’m going to tell you the truth about how I’m feeling and why, and I hope that you will do the same for me.”
Giving your full attention to the issue at hand:
Problem solving shouldn’t be happening in the in-between moments. You shouldn’t be watching a movie or scrolling on your phone while you and your partner are having a serious conversation. Set aside time specifically for the two of you to come together and discuss the issue at hand.
Speaking from the self:
This means talk about what you’re feeling and what you think would help it, instead of accusing your partner of something. If you constantly fight over one of you not doing the dishes, instead of saying “you don’t ever do the dishes, you don’t care about our home!” explain the feelings behind the anger. You could say something like “I feel sad when I come home to a sink full of dishes. I want our home to be a nice space for the two of us to spend time together. I would feel loved and appreciated if you would help me out in maintaining that.”
Ask for help when your relationship needs it:
If you can’t find common ground or resolve the conflict on your own, that doesn’t mean that hope is lost. Sometimes we need an outside perspective to help us get to a more honest and natural understanding of our relationship and our partners. If working on the issue on your own isn’t working, consider taking the conversation to couples therapy.