There’s a popular misconception about arguing with your partner floating around the internet; many people believe it’s a sign that there’s something wrong with your relationship – a red flag of sorts or an omen of death.
In reality, arguing, disagreeing, and even having consistent conflicts with your partner is totally normal and to be expected. Whoever is telling you otherwise is either full of shit or is trying to sell you on a dodgy relationship recovery course – most often, it’s a combination of both.
This article will explore the two types of healthy conflicts that most people mistake for being abnormal and toxic. It will teach you ways to manage them and reasons for why they happen. And to top it all off, it will also answer the question of, “when does healthy relationship conflict actually become toxic?”
As the name implies, our first type of healthy conflict is everlasting, meaning it never stops being a nuisance. Here’s a personal example of one:
I’m a big advocate of healthy eating. I avoid bread, pasta and only eat sweets on Saturdays – my cheat day. But my girlfriend is the complete opposite. She loves bread, pasta, and sweets and hardly eats anything else.
Unsurprisingly, the different food preferences me and my girlfriend share often cause tension in our relationship. They take the form of a neverending conflict. I always roll my eyes in disgust when she eats crappy food, and she can’t fathom how I can live off salads and oatmeal.
But guess what? My relationship, despite the countless bizarre arguments I keep having with my partner, still works. In fact, it’s pretty damn awesome.
Now I know what you’re thinking, “Holy shit, what’s the secret sauce, man? And can you give me some?”
Well, yes… Yes, I can.
It’s simple, really. Just don’t let the conflict you have with your partner grow to the point where it blinds you from the fact that you’re a team – that your partner is your teammate.
In practice, this translates to approaching any relationship conflict you’re having with self-awareness, humor, and compassion.
For example, when I sense myself taking something like my girlfriend’s crappy diet too seriously – to the point where conflict arises – I begin to make fun of the whole situation.
This approach enables me to do three things. First, it helps me disarm any tension between my lover and me. Second, it allows us to channel our love and appreciation towards each other. Third, it encourages both of us to foster greater mutual acceptance.
Feel free to try this approach yourself. Just whatever you do, don’t try to fix your neverending conflicts. You never “fix” them. Relationships and conflicts are like [insert cliché here]. What you should do is learn to manage conflicts when they show up – which they eventually will.
One time conflicts are situational. Meaning that they don’t occur all the time or keep repeating like their everlasting counterpart, but only show up under certain circumstances.
Another difference when comparing one-time conflicts to everlasting ones is that the former can be resolved, or in other words, fixed, while the latter, as I mentioned can’t be.
Below are four examples of one-off conflicts and approaches on how you could go about resolving them.
Note: the solutions presented are only some of the ones you can utilize in your love and life.
Conflict: Your boyfriend disapproves of how you intend to dress when you meet his parents next Saturday. He believes your style too provocative, liberal…err, slutty.
Resolution: The way to mend this conflict is by first communicating your thoughts on the subject and then either setting a boundary and sticking to your desired outfit or making a compromise beneficial to your partner, and changing.
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.
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 also want to go camping with your buddies the same day. 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. Now, you have a choice to make.
Resolution: One way of fixing this (potential) conflict is with a compromise. You could postpone your trip to Disneyland, go sooner, or call up your boys and reschedule camping 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 too. It’s sexy. 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.”
In summary, learn to manage your everlasting conflicts and resolve/fix the temporary type. The most efficient way that you do both is by cultivating rock-solid communication skills and the ability to accept your partner for who they are.
But when does conflict turn toxic? When do all the relationship skills you cultivate and sharpen become of no use? When would be a good time to stop managing, resolving, and just pull the plug on your partner?
After much thought, this is what I came up with:
The only time you could label a conflict between you and your partner as toxic is when it occurs repeatedly and is soaked in non-sensical drama – the drama being fights and bickerings caused by a toxic person’s insecurities or uncompromisable, conflicting values. And this elegantly brings me to my last point…
Relationship Conflict is just the sound of clashing values
Conflicts between couples don’t just happen. They form on the backbone of disagreements, or to be more precise, opposing values.
For example, one partner might value keeping their living room spotless, while the other couldn’t care less. So, when one comes indoors with mud-covered boots, the other flies of the rails and starts a fight.
Here’s another example; one partner is an atheist, while the other a passionate Christian. If it ever happens that one begins to force the other to change their outlook on life, fights naturally follow.
And here’s a personal example; I value a healthy diet for maximum focus and productivity, while my girlfriend couldn’t care less about that stuff.
Ultimately, when you have conflicts with your partner, don’t treat them as some irrational fights but more clashes of opposing values – a.k.a incompatibilities.
Therefore, you have to get good at asking yourself if your partner’s incompatibility is worth the fight or would it be better to start a new relationship.
The choice is hard, but it’s on you. Choose wisely. Just remember, there’s no perfect partner. Every person you meet has their own pile of emotional baggage and frustrating qualities. Everyone has dirty laundry.
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