"Love is like the truth, sometimes it prevails, and sometimes it hurts."
--Victor M. Garcia Jr.
Conflicts are an inevitable facet of relationships that can become magnified especially in relationships. They arise out of difference of needs. In a relationship, we need to feel comfortable, supported, and understood by the person with whom we are most intimate in the world. When our expectations of these needs are not met, or are perceived differently by our spouse, conflict can begin to bubble and surface.
A conflict in a relationship is more than a simple misunderstanding or disagreement. If one person perceives a threat, whether real or not, then there will be conflict. What do we mean by threat? A threat can be any anticipated attack on a vulnerable part of the mind and emotions. Threats, in turn, trigger strong emotional reactions. How you manage these emotional reactions when you feel vulnerable and threatened is how you handle conflicts.
Perhaps above all, in a relationship it is important to maintain a level playing field. There can be no tolerance for "fighting dirty." Undercutting your spouse with a cheap and petty trick designed specifically to hit a weak point only you can know doesn't win you the argument; it loses you your relationship.
Love is War
We've all heard the phrase "lose the battle; win the war" and love is often called war. The constant refrain being "all's fair in love and war." A good general will sacrifice a battle to gain a strategic advantage for a later date. But, in a relationship, this approach is not a winning tactic. It's nothing short of sabotage.
By 'saving up' mistakes your spouse makes to be used at a later date to your personal advantage, you are not gaining abstract points in an endless competition. You're opening old wounds and preventing them from healing. Wounds that never heal become scars, and the bitter scars from an unhappy relationship will never fade.
Remember, in war the goal is to destroy your opponent or force them to surrender. Love is not war. Nor should be your relationship.
The Silent Treatment
There's a school of thought that advocates the silent treatment in conflict. Withdraw from explosive, angry, and hurtful shouting and reactions into a frigid but not scathing silence. Wait for the tide of tempers to go out and allow cooler heads to prevail.
The truth behind the silent treatment is that it's perhaps more painful than a heated argument. There's a reason why prisons use solitary confinement as a punishment: it's the isolation. By giving your spouse the 'silent treatment' you're isolating them. You're allowing the hurt and pain from conflict to ferment and punish them further. To resolve a conflict you need to seek compromise, not further punishment.
Taking a direct approach to conflict can save your relationship before it's ever in jeopardy. Evading a disagreement is born out of fear. Fear of being wrong, fear of being misunderstood, and fear of vulnerability. The silent treatment is a simple evasion tactic. If you want to have a fair, and open resolution with your spouse the silent treatment is directly detrimental to the resolution and healing process.
The first step to fighting fair and openly resolving a conflict is to acknowledge the disagreement, the difference of needs and expectations, and listen. Dismissive behavior is one of the most psychologically damaging behaviors for one person to another. Acknowledge, listen, and put yourself in their shoes for a minute.
Taking pause to try to gain an insight into your partner's perspective will help take the edge off the stress. Stress is the first enemy in a conflict. A conflict in a relationship is highly stressing. The best answer is to relax and try to ease the stress of your partner. High stress levels will inhibit your ability to see to the root of the issue, it'll interfere with your reading of the other person's non-verbal communication, and it will even obscure your own feelings. Learn how to rapidly relieve stress, not just for yourself, but for your spouse.
Second, you need to activate your emotional awareness while fighting. You need to understand precisely how you feel in order to communicate your needs and resolve the disagreement. When you're capable of understanding your emotions you open yourself to empathy and being able to sense how your spouse is feeling. Understanding paves the way for resolution.
Fair fighters always utilize humor. A single moment of levity, of joy, can undo stress, open up closed off emotions, and reduce tension. Humor can put the disagreement in unexpected perspective. Why were we arguing over this anyways? That single moment of joy can lead to the final opportunity afforded by conflict: the opportunity to grow and build stronger trust. If you can make a joke about an angry moment, you can feel secure in knowing that your relationship has reached the point where it will survive unexpected adversity and disagreement.
Conflicts in relationship run deeper than just a simple disagreement. The grooves of your character are as familiar to your spouse as any part of your physical appearance. When these grooves grate against each other, strong emotions can be triggered and fester if untended. Taking a proactive, positive, and honest approach to conflict resolution will result in an opportunity to strengthen your relationship, to improve the feeling of security and trust leaving it stronger than it was before.
For more than six years Psychotherapist and Life Coach, Dr. Warrick T. Stewart (affectionately known as Dr. Warrick) has been an integral and innovative addition to the counseling, and mental health field. Dr. Warrick is a Board Certified Licensed Professional Counselor in both North Carolina and Georgia. He is also a Licensed Clinical Addictions Specialist and a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor.