Sammy Jo (Diffendaffer) Allen, M.S., LMFT
Secrets Behind Relationship Conflict - Why Fighting May Not Be So Bad After All
A lifetime of joy and contentment with another person does not just "happen" by luck or by chance. While the end goal, when it comes to marriage or a life-long partnership, is indeed some version of "happily-ever-after;" you may be surprised to learn that the most efficient way to achieve such a picturesque relationship may be through some conflict early on. With over 3,000 hours of experience in field of marriage and family therapy, relationship specialist Sammy Jo Diffendaffer weighs in on the nitty gritty behind conflict in intimate relationships. Read below to find out why experts say conflict may not be so bad after all.
Conflict is actually feedback that leads to a better understanding between partners. Couples who don't shy away from disagreements are likely to learn more about one another early on, ultimately supplying the data necessary to determine if the relationship is sustainable long term; or, when a couple is already committed to the long haul, helping the couple make early adjustments to more peacefully coexist.**Tip: Try making space for whatever crazy idea or opinion your partner has, even if it is contrary to your own way of thinking or stretches outside your comfort zone. There's always time to evaluate whether or not you're actually "okay" with any major difference that shows up between you and your partner. Further, you'll be glad you gave yourself the opportunity to better understand your partner's intended message before reacting or jumping too quickly to a conclusion.
Allowing space for conflict means addressing issues before they can build into something bigger, or worse, before they can be swept under the rug altogether. Years worth of unresolved issues may lead to serious symptoms, even divorce. **Tip: Using emotion-regulation strategies, like slowing down and taking deep breaths, make a point to better understand what reactions you're having in the relationship and next, find a gentle way to express your softened emotions from a more regulated state. Sharing information that involves softer emotions, such as having felt afraid, hurt, abandoned, or not good enough (to name a few), can give your partner the opportunity to respond with compassion, hopefully without being triggered by heightened emotion or a feeling of being attacked.
In a way, conflict shows passion, investment, and caring. As a therapist, I have a much higher success rate with couples who are still fighting in the relationship than with couples who have already given up the fight. **Tip: When you or your partner find yourselves first struggling with communication, perhaps feeling frustrated with one another or misunderstood, that is the absolute best time to schedule a counseling check-up to get you back on track. Before resorting to go around a particular conflict (or conflicts), keep in mind that giving up on the fight can be as detrimental as giving up on the relationship.
For my clients, "no conflict" is not the goal. Conflict should exist as a healthy component of all ongoing working relationships, especially intimate ones, however, as with most things in life, balance is the key. In relationships where there is a higher ratio of negative interactions to positive ones, or in instances where couple becomes entrenched in a negative conflict cycle, a couple is also at an increased risk of severe relationship distress. Regardless of whether you are apt to conflict too little or too much, one of the best ways to keep you and your partner in sync, is through proper maintenance and check-ups with a trained professional. Don't delay the opportunity to deepen, realign, and smooth out past difficulties. It's never too late to grow!