Keeping quiet to keep the peace lessens intimacy instead of increasing it. Katie Vessel suggests healthy conflict to bring partners closer together.
If you clicked on this article, you are likely in the type of partnership or marriage that has its ups and downs.
Your relationship may even have way more downs than ups and those downs may have started to resemble dark bottomless crevasses more so than the valleys between the peaks that many relationships experts sometimes speak of rather flippantly.
Most of my relationships have been extremely fiery. The power struggles and stubbornness have been nothing short of epic at times, and sadly these fights were typically over the same issues, over and over and over. Either that, or they would be about something that I think we both knew deep down was really about something else—those unresolved issues that seem to plague everyday life. As I frequently say, it is never really about the dishes, is it?
The love, playfulness and curiosity that was there at the beginning of the relationship gets murky. If your relationship is a swimming pool, these issues can build up and without regular cleansing and maintenance, the waters can become dark and even toxic, to the point where keeping your heads above water even can become a challenge.
The truth of the matter is that our fight or flight response has been conditioned to be triggered during any type of conflict. We have all heard this before, right? We feel threatened for one reason or another and we become reactive instead of responsive and we also become defensive—sometimes extremely defensive.
While these reactions and patterns in our relationships may be extremely difficult to break, we can begin by first seeing them for what they are, them committing ourselves to changing the dynamic.
This can begin by being proactive and preventative. After all, the pool may accumulate some random bugs, leaves and other debris, but the sooner we clear them out of the water, the easier it will be.
The same goes for our relationships. Little things happen that bother us or maybe even hurt us, and the sooner that we deal with these things, the easier it will be to move forward in a healthy way.
It can be difficult to bring things up—especially if we run the risk of starting an argument. Some days when things seem to be going well enough, it can take both courage and vulnerability to initiate a conversation, and of course, our tone and approach in doing this is key.
So how do we know whether to bring up an issue, or to just tell ourselves that we are going to let something slide?
I would recommend asking yourself these two questions: Is this something that will likely still be bothering me tomorrow or next week? And/or is this issue becoming a pattern or a trend?
We need to understand that we are bringing up these problems as maintenance to our relationship, and if we care about the relationship and most importantly our partner or spouse, this is as important as getting our oil changed regularly on a car.
Conflict will always be there, sprinkled across the timeline of our relationships, but we can be intentional and together as a unit decide that our conflict will never lead to actual fighting.
When things start to heat up, we can do simple things to remind each other that we are not enemies. These actions can be as simple as making eye contact, grabbing the other’s hand or even reminding them that we love them.
We can be intentional about deciding to stay on one side—as a team, throughout the conflict. Instead of both partners jumping to opposite sides of the fence and shooting missiles at each other, so to speak, we can decide to stay on one side and take on the conflict as a team. It can be us versus the conflict and we can strategize together.
This all of course takes effort, and practice, and time, but it is worth it. Conflict can and is healthy, and the choice is there to approach it in a way that does not divide but instead strengthens the connection.