These 3 States Occur In Every Relationship—What Are They?


Is your relationship growing or dying? Find out about the three relationship states to find out!

There are three states in a relationship: Intimacy, Conflict, and Withdrawal. Intimacy is that blind in-love state where everything feels connected and beautiful. It’s what is going on when you talk to each other in a baby voice and would walk over hot coals to make sure your loved one is happy. Intimacy is obviously a state of connection. This sustains the relationship and keeps you growing together.

Conflict sounds bad because it often leads to harsh words and hurt feelings, but it doesn't have to be. Conflict is when two or more people want something different and have to work together to resolve it. That's it. It doesn't have to be about drama. It can be small, like deciding where to have dinner that night, or large, like deciding whether to be parents together. If you resolve conflict well, you go back to Intimacy. This grows your relationship. If you don't resolve conflict in a healthy way, you spend time in Withdrawal. 

If you are someone who tends to avoid conflict, think of it this way. Conflict is a connected state. You and your partner are willing to talk. You want to work things out. As long as you are both there, things can change. Just focus on how to get through the issue together and you will stay connected and growing.

Withdrawal is that emotional place you go to to lick your wounds. You don't want to fight anymore. You don't want to be hurt, either. So, it's like an emotional retreat. The longer you stay in Withdrawal, the harder it is to get back to Intimacy because you must travel through Conflict to reach Intimacy. You can pretend to have intimacy by going through the motions, but you won't truly have intimacy if there isn't resolution. Withdrawal is a state of disconnection. The more time you spend here, the more your relationship dies.

It's really important to know where you are and where your partner is because so many people get blindsided when they are dumped. It may feel to you like you just broke up, but your ex may be their life as if you didn't matter at all. This is because YOU were in Conflict, where there is still attachment and a willingness to work things out, while they had been in Withdrawal for a while.

If you and your partners have been broken up a while but you find yourself still fighting and you want to get a clean break, look at it this way. As long as you stay engaged in the fighting, you will keep having to deal with your ex. Conflict is a connected state. That's why people fight with their exes! It's better for some people to have some connection than to lose it altogether. So realize what part you are playing in all of this. If you want to break ties, stop engaging in conflict. It takes two to fight.

Finally, if you want your relationship to be strong and healthy, make an effort to stay in Intimacy as much as possible. Conflict is inevitable. When it is negotiated well, it actually builds trust and intimacy, but if it's all about hurt, it sends one or both parties into Withdrawal. It can only be downhill from there.

This article was originally published at Laura Giles, LCSW. Reprinted with permission from the author.