The other day my hairdresser asked me what I do. When I told her I’m a Relationship Coach, she got super curious about my life. How does it work? Who do you work with? And then we inevitably veered into the personal, Are you in a relationship? (I am, though there’s more to it than that.)
This might be a silly question but… do you guys fight?
Her hesitant tone made me laugh a little. On the one hand because yes, we absolutely do. And on the other, because I find it absurd that we’re trained to see an absence of conflict as the ultimate relationship goal.
Don’t take me wrong, I LOVE harmony. When I was a kid, any hint of conflict in the people around me would creep into my body and work my shoulders into knots. I spent most of my life hating disagreement, and pushing it away.
Over time, however, I learned that the key to living in harmony is not avoiding conflict like the plague.
When you avoid conflict, you’re simply making an external problem, internal. Tension between two people becomes a battle between your desire for harmony (or connection or freedom) and the desire to be true to yourself.
So if we really want harmony, we need to embrace conflict – pull it close and learn to resolve it well.
In fact, this applies to most human desires.
=> Embrace responsibility.
=> Embrace your own company.
Want wild, raging success?
=> Embrace humility, and the bumps along the road.
Until then, what you resist, persists.
And since we both know that’s not what you want, here are 3 Mindset Shifts that will help you embrace healthy conflict in your romantic relationships.
HEALTHY CONFLICT IN ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS: MINDSET SHIFT 1
Accept conflict as a natural part of relationships
Conflict arises in romantic relationships when we’re navigating the balance between separateness and togetherness. It’s not possible for two independent people to agree on everything. It’s not possible to be true to yourself AND design your entire life around the needs and desires of another person.
And sometimes, other humans are just really annoying. But it’s okay because so are you.
A lot of the things we fight about are not even solvable.
Research out of the Gottman Institute found that 69% of conflict in romantic relationships is about perpetual issues. Essentially the result of you being you and me being me and the two of us learning to live with that. We consistently come back to that same argument about the definition of a tidy house, our mismatched sex drives, or how one of us likes more alone time than the other.
This means the best measure of what’s healthy is not the absence of conflict or your success rate for finding solutions. What matters is something more qualitative – HOW you have the conversation. (Which we’re about to dive into in #2!)
Focusing on arguing well will help you to see conflict as an opportunity for deepening intimacy and connection.
Through healthy conflict, you’ll come to see your partner as distinct from yourself and courageous in their willingness to let you see them fully. You’ll see it as an opportunity to heal and grow, as you allow your vulnerability to be witnessed and experience being loved just as you are.
And therefore, when conflict arises, you’ll choose to embrace it, and lean in.
HEALTHY CONFLICT IN ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS: MINDSET SHIFT 2
Focus on what you REALLY want not what your ego wants
One of my personal traps is giving my partner the cold shoulder. When I dig into why, I generally realise it’s because I’m hurt that he wasn’t present with me (aka giving me attention) when I wanted him to be. Yet there I am, literally blocking out his attempts to be present with me. Does that make any sense?!
Not to the rational mind, no. But to anyone who understands human behaviour? It’s predictable to the point of being cliché.
We’re not the most rational creatures.
When we get triggered, our egos take over. Often this leads us to create the exact opposite of what we want, because we’re upset that we didn’t get it or scared that we won’t. It’s like we try to convince ourselves that we never really wanted it anyway, and pretend it’s our own choice.
So before you start an argument or dig your feet in, ask yourself this question:
What matters to you more; being right, or connecting with your partner?
If it’s still about being right, it’s too soon to have a constructive conversation. When you’re concerned with proving that you’re right, there is no way you’ll be able to listen.
For a conflict to be resolved, you need to tune into that part of you that really wants to connect, through the ego bullshit. Maybe that means you need some space first. Time to process, cool down, scream and shout. Maybe you need some kind of reassurance that it’s safe to soften into the vulnerability of the moment. Maybe you just need to be heard.
Whatever it takes to get you here, so you can answer this question with your heart: What is it you REALLY want?
HEALTHY CONFLICT IN ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS: MINDSET SHIFT 3
Make it safe to let things go
If your partner turns around to you halfway through a fight and says Hey you know what, I messed up, I’m sorry, give them a hug, thank them. Soften. Don’t turn around and say Yeah what’s new?, throw their flaws in their face, or get up on your high horse all smug because they’re wrong and you’re right.
Neither of you is perfect.
And on that note, when it’s you who realises that you were perhaps not behaving as admirably as you’d like, be brave. Have the courage to stop, own up to it, and put it behind you.
An upsetting experience can be both important, and temporary. You will feel better if you let it go. And holding onto your suffering is not the way to prove that it matters.
When you have the courage to own your shit and shake it off, honour each other. Create a loving environment where being human (ie flawed and fallible) is not met with blame and shame. This way you’re even helping each other grow, through healthy conflict.
So! Hopefully these 3 Mindset Shifts have got you so excited about the potential of conflict that you want to go home and start a fight right now. Please don’t do that. But when the next argument does come up, remember this; the more you accept it, focus on what you REALLY want, and make it safe to let things go, the easier and healthier it will be.
I’ve got some more practical advice on managing conflict in relationships coming soon. In the meantime, if you want to fast-track your path to healthier, happier and more fulfilling relationships, book a complimentary first call with me here.