Conflict is something that’s been simmering on my mind for a while now, specifically conflict within a romantic partnership.
For a long time, I felt that fighting with your significant other meant there were problems in paradise. And sure, constant arguing and unhealthy communication may signal that this isn’t working, but let’s be real—conflict is inevitable, no matter how great you guys are together.
And avoiding it doesn’t help anyone, either.
In these moments, we become reminded, yet again, that a partnership is two completely different and complex individuals coming together to share space, time and energy with each other. Shit’s bound to hit the fan at some point.
I recently found myself in a situation where I faced conflict with someone I care about, and as frustrating as the conversation may have been, I walked away feeling great about what happened. And I’ll tell you why in a second…
In the past, conflicts with men in my life were such a shit-show. They would yell, become physically or verbally abusive, refuse to take responsibility and try to flip the script on me, or just become so incredibly abrasive that I began to fear speaking up for myself, because I didn’t want to deal with confrontation. Pair that with my abandonment issues, anxiety and irrational thought that I’m constantly a burden, and you got a girl who loathed conflict.
Clearly, over the years, I’ve done a lot of work to not only reframe those beliefs in my mind, but also repair my relationship with conflict. Because like I said, they’re inevitable.
So, instead of running away from what could make us stronger, I wanted to make sure that I was equipped with the right tools to navigate these rocky waters as best as possible.
Now, back to my recent experience.
What I appreciated about that interaction was that it gave me a sneak peek on how we each showed up to the conversation and how we handled it. As hurtful and uncomfortable as some moments may have been, the entire experience was rooted with respect and mutual care. We acknowledged where we each messed up, we were open and honest, we practiced active listening, and we always returned to the simple fact that this person sitting across from me is someone I care about, and that’s what matters most.
We would never have known any of this had the conflict not come up.
Through my experiences with conflict, I’ve learned a few things:
Save the conversation for an in-person meeting. Text or phone calls tend to make it worse.
Face each other when you’re speaking.
Physical touch (hand holding, a hug, etc.) can be a great way to remind each other that you’re on the same side. After all, it’s you both vs. the problem, not you vs. them. However, also be mindful that they may not want to be touched in that moment for whatever reason, and respect that boundary.
If you need to pause and take a breath, do it.
If you need to step away for a second, let your partner know. But don’t leave mid-argument and just vanish. Communicate.
Become OK with being at fault. Regardless of whether or not you feel like you’re wrong, acknowledge and validate your partner’s experience, which may differ from yours.
Watch your tone and word choice. If you come guns blazing, prepare for a complete shutdown or a defensive attack.
Use “I feel” statements (ex: I feel disrespected and neglected when you don’t uphold your commitments with me.)
Remember your goal. What are you hoping to achieve by this conversation?
I encourage you to approach any upcoming conflicts as a learning opportunity. Because that’s really what it is. Observe what actions or behaviors you resort to when you’re in the hot seat, and make note of how your partner makes you feel while they express themselves to you. If there are areas for improvement, great! Work on that together.
And if you need help, here are some tips that I’ve found very helpful from my friend and relationship coach Silvy Khoucasian: