Most of us dislike conflict. Very few people were raised with healthy role models for dealing with differences. But while conflict may appear to be a destructive force in relationships, it can actually help us achieve lasting love. Author Kate McNulty, LCSW writes “Differences can be a source of interest and fresh energy rather than cause us to dig in our heels and defend our positions.”
You will disagree, that’s a given. But it’s not arguing with your partner that’s the problem, it’s how your differences are resolved. Love means risking occasionally getting your feelings hurt because it’s the price you pay for intimacy. In all intimate relationships, conflicting needs for closeness and space exist. When issues come up with either of these needs, it’s essential that you discuss them with your partner and find creative ways to compromise.
Taking the time to resolve conflicts with your partner in a healthy way is hard work – but the payoff is tremendous. It’s essential that you accept differences rather than define your relationship problems in terms of your partner’s character flaws, according to Deborah Hecker, Ph.D. She writes, “Typically I define couples’ problems in terms of differences between them rather than the defects in either partner. A focus on defectiveness leads to blame and accusations on the one hand and defensiveness on the other. Effective solutions are not likely to result.”
Every relationship has its ups and downs, and conflict goes with the territory. Yet you might avoid conflict because it may have signified the end of your parents’ marriage or led to bitter disputes. Marriage counselor, Michele Weiner Davis explains that avoiding conflict backfires in intimate relationships. She posits that bottling up negative thoughts and feelings doesn’t give your partner a chance to change their behavior. On the other hand, Weiner cautions that one of the secrets of a good marriage or romantic relationship is learning to choose battles wisely and to distinguish between petty issues and important ones.
Many of the women I interviewed for my book Daughters of Divorce identified feelings of vulnerability when it came to dealing with facing differences that arise between them and their partner. They might walk on eggshells because they grew up in families where healthy ways to resolve conflicts were not displayed. Sarah, age 28, was raised in a family where her parents managed conflicts poorly and experienced a bitter divorce. She strives to use a problem-solving approach with her husband Jason and to learn to manage their differences more effectively.