types of relationship conflicts and how to resolve them
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Conflicts between couples don’t just happen. They form on the backbone of disagreements, or to be more precise, opposing values.
For example, you might value keeping your home spotless, while your partner couldn’t care less. So, whenever they would come indoors with shit-stained shoes, you would go nuts.
But while you might think that conflicts in a romantic relationship are bad news, that’s not always the case. As it turns out, most of the time, they’re healthy. One could also argue that they are a natural part of any relationship.
In this newsletter, I’ll go over the two types of healthy conflicts in turn and explain how you can minimize their consequences. And in the end, I’ll explain what makes a conflict toxic or unhealthy.
nEVER ENDING conflict
As the name implies, our first type of healthy conflict is everlasting, meaning it never stops being a nuisance. Here’s an example of one from my own life:
I’m a big advocate of healthy eating. I avoid bread, pasta, and most sugary snacks as much as I can. But my girlfriend is the complete opposite of me. She loves those things and consumes them frequently.
Unsurprisingly, our different food preferences often cause tension in our relationship. On the one hand, I always roll my eyes in disappointment when she eats crappy food. But on the other, she can’t fathom how I can live off salads and oatmeal, so she resorts to calling me crazy at times.
Therefore, the differences between my girlfriend and me are a source of never-ending tension, which often leads to conflict. And it’s probably not going away anytime soon.
But how do I make my relationship work despite this? Or put differently, how can you make your relationship work despite the clashing values you share with your lover.
The answer is pretty darn simple.
Don’t let your disagreements grow so large that they make you resent your partner. Sure, you can get frustrated with them. But you should never be blind to the fact that they’re your teammate.
The way I approach any relationship hiccup is with awareness, humor, and acceptance.
First, I catch myself when I’m taking something like my girlfriend’s diet too seriously (awareness). Then, I start making fun of both of us for even arguing about such trivial details in the first place. (humor) The last thing I do is tell myself that my partner is human. She has her own emotional issues and stupid pet-peeves – just like me. I try my best to accept this, as she tries her best to accept me. (acceptance)
Due to this approach, the tension between my partner and me lessens over time. Thus, we can focus on appreciating and loving each other more. Now try this approach yourself if you have someone by your side.
Just whatever you do, don’t try to fix perpetual conflicts by trying to change your partner. That path will only lead you to resent them more and vice versa. And believe me, resentment is the beginning of the end.
The more you resent someone, the less you’ll respect them. And the less you’ll respect them, the less you’ll trust them. And when respect and trust are gone from a relationship, there can’t be love…or a relationship actually! Basically, you’re fucked at that point.
The second form of healthy relationship conflict is situational. Meaning, it doesn’t occur all the time, but only under certain circumstances. Here are four examples of how it looks like and how to go about resolving it:
Conflict: Your boyfriend disapproved of the way you dressed up for meeting his parents. He believes that your outfit is too trashy but doesn’t get that that’s how you roll.
Solution: communicate. Maybe you feel like a phony or too “try-hard” by wearing something else. If so, you have three choices:
Option one would be to communicate your thoughts and still meet your boyfriend’s parents with your outfit. Option two could be to make a compromise and change into a different outfit. As a side note, you should go along with this only if it’s something you want to do. And not because you, for instance, feel pressured too. Option 3 could be to do both – communicate and make a compromise.
Conflict: Your girlfriend is mad because you forgot to buy milk on your way from work, even though you kept promising for days that you’ll do it.
Solution: Apologize, and then don’t fuck up next time. But If you have a good reason why you forgot to buy milk (e.i, stress at work), you could ask your girlfriend to shoot you a reminder text next time.
Conflict: Your girlfriend wants you to take her to Disneyland this Monday, but you want to go camping with your buddies.
Going to Disneyland means a lot to your partner, and going out camping with the boys is a tradition you’ve kept since childhood, and you don’t want to let it go.
Solution: Compromise. You could postpone your trip to Disneyland until next week, or go sooner. Or, you could call your boys and reschedule camp-night. Sure, it might sting, but the world won’t stop spinning.
Conflict: You feel neglected and thus hurt whenever your boyfriend keeps chatting on his phone amid your dates.
Solution: Again, communicate, and be sure to show vulnerability. It’s sexy, by the way.
I would say something like, “Hey, I feel neglected when you’re on the phone while I’m talking. It would mean a lot to me if you put it down and pay attention. Besides, I want to know what else happened this weekend to you on that camping trip. Tell me about it.”
A conflict between two partners would become toxic or unhealthy when they a) keep repeating it for weeks or months, b) the arguments are harsh and non-sensical, and c) both people keep overstepping each-others personal boundaries.
Here’s a concrete example of what I mean.
Let’s say Andy is an atheist, while his girlfriend, Kristy, is a passionate Christian. In fact, she’s so passionate that she keeps nagging him, day after day, to attend church with her. After a few weeks, she even begins to say things like, “If you loved me, you would show more interest in God,” to make him feel guilty. And in their worst moments, she even begins to scold him for being an atheist.
What Kristy is doing at its core is trying to change her lover’s outlook on life. Naturally, this tendency always ends in intense fights with Andy.
At this point, the arguing of the young couple became toxic. It kept repeating itself for weeks. The arguments were those of two deranged individuals, and they both broke each other’s boundaries.
Kristy wanted her partner to become a follower of God, while he kept accusing her of being naive, weak, and stupid for following Christianity.
In summary, learn to manage everlasting conflicts and resolve the temporary. The way you do both is by cultivating solid communication and empathy skills and by accepting your partner for who they are.
Also, keep in mind that not all disagreements have to be resolved. Yes, you heard that right! According to Dr. John Gottman, 69% of relationship problems are unsolvable either way. Thus, he emphasizes that couples should try to manage their fights, not eliminate them.
But when it comes to toxic arguments, don’t even bother managing them. I would consider breaking up with your partner if they keep repeating themselves.