Love

The One Intense Thing Every Healthy Relationship Has

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couple arguing on couch

I used to love harmony in my family. I didn’t just love harmony — I needed it. A calm, peaceful home with little conflict was essential to me. It’s something that my soul yearned for, and for a long time, I would do anything to maintain it. Sadly, this need kept me from having healthy relationships. When I was growing up, my family members often fought. I withheld my opinions, just so I wouldn’t contribute to the upheaval. It was a reflex; something I did without question. I ducked and fled the scene or kept quiet, not taking sides. I never made my opinion known, and just told those involved what they wanted to hear.

Why even the healthiest relationships have an intense conflict

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At first, I reaped all the benefits. I was considered the nice one. Everyone loved me because they could get along with me so easily. But, it turns out many of my relationships were harmonious because that was what was most important to me. Over time these relationships started taking a toll on me because I felt the weight of not being honest. These were no longer healthy relationships.

I dreaded being in the presence of those closest to me because I knew it would mean disowning a part of myself. This didn’t feel good, but I didn’t understand that I had a choice. Later on, during my first marriage, I continued on this path. I would diffuse disagreements by giving in, just so the home could remain peaceful. I thought I was helping my marriage because surely my husband had the same need for harmony as I did.

   

   

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For a long time, I had thought of self-care as being something that happens on the outside: rest, meditation, a massage, or downtime with loved ones. However, as I focused my work inward, I understood, that self-care has an inner component to it as well. Think about it: we can engage in the most indulgent outer self-care in the world — from cutting-edge nutrition to ancient rituals — but if we don’t investigate what lies beneath, we will never come close to the only part of us over which we have control. It’s here in our reflection where we uncover the patterns that we uphold and that exhaust us. I was maintaining harmony for the sake of harmony but was suffering as a result of it and it kept me from experiencing healthy relationships.

   

   

As this increasingly affected my physical health, I had to take an honest look at how I wanted to feel. We often don’t like what lies beneath because we have to step away from the persona that others have come to expect as always nice. When we’ve built our identity around it, it’s difficult to dismantle it or even know how to behave in new ways. Knowing how to have a healthy relationship, we have to accept our shadow. I had to learn that I felt angry with some of the people closest to me and with myself for not speaking up. Acknowledging this truth was uncomfortable. And it took a while for me to change my behavior. But there was also a relief in it because once I saw it, I was able to transform it. A gifted teacher once told me: "If you are creating harmony by avoiding conflict, you have no harmony at all. You have to walk through the conflict to create deep and lasting harmony."

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And wasn’t that the truth?! I had to start facing the people I had pacified through my avoidance and talk to them honestly. And believe me, this didn’t come easily. However, I learned that I honor those around me and myself much more when I face a conflict and express my true feelings. I give them and myself the respect and space to respond we all deserve.

In my current marriage, I still tend to want to go back to my old behavior. However, I can stop myself since I am now aware of my pattern. Because of this, I never allow my anger or frustration to fester. When a disagreement comes up, I speak up, no matter how uncomfortable it still can be.

I always feared that if I spoke up, I create disharmony. Yet, now when I face conflict right away, I can respectfully discuss the issue. Arguments that have been suppressed over a long period become fairly explosive when they are finally addressed. If we rack up enough resentment, we feel entitled to spew. So it’s best to nip it in the bud and get through it as soon as possible. And the lovely thing is when we do face a conflict and get through it, at the other end we can relax into a deep, much more genuine harmony.

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Selina Schuh is an educator, author, speaker, and owner of Empowered Living Strategies. She teaches women who are feeling frustrated and under-appreciated in their relationships step-by-step skills to create deeply connected relationships.