Everyone knows conflicts are normal in relationships.
Couples who claim not to fight typically find they were actually avoiding problems instead of solving them. This usually ends up creating other types of issues that are in fact more difficult to repair but that’s a story for another day.
Let’s focus on what is really going on for couples who have reached that heightened state of ‘relationship warfare’ when all conversations turn into a shouting match? (I’m sure you know some people like that – if only because they happen to be your neighbors).
The simple answer is they don’t even know what they are fighting about.
The triggers can be anything – dishes left in the sink or the infamous toilet seat, the children’s bad habits, credit card bills or being late for dinner.
For some couples, EVERYTHING has become an irritant that’s just adding to the annoyance: the partner’s tone of voice, a certain look or just the idea of being in the same room for an extended period of time.
What happened to the love though?
Where are the times when the other could do no wrong and there was talk of living happily ever after?
Relationship issues – and therefore conflicts – are nothing but unmet needs that we are not fully aware of.
Some are solvable with communication and attention. If one partner needs a clear and organized space to feel balanced and at peace and the other is a little (or a LOT) less OCD about these things, one can always hire a cleaner and simply be a little bit more present and careful about leaving their stuff lying around. This can be easily negotiated if there is a clear understanding of why a clean space is important for one partner and through making an explicit agreement on how to deal with this issue positively, should it arise again.
Some other issues though are not that easy to solve. There are not many ways around things like trust that has been broken, feeling judged, criticized or unimportant.
These issues are more abstract, fundamentally impact the success of the relationship and are often related to ‘feelings’ ie. One person’s interpretation of reality.
- subjective (they have to be satisfied according to each person’s definition),
- black or write (not much space for grey in feeling respected)
- always going to create conflict (not negotiable)
So what is the solution?
First – in any sort of argument – turn inwards and ask yourself: “What is really bothering me about this situation?” Sure, the partner could be late for dinner (again!) but is this really the issue here? Unless you’re making a souffle that absolutely must be eaten at a certain time, being late for dinner is hardly a cause for divorce.
Ask yourself ”Is this really about my partner or rather how I feel about myself? Am I making it all about me?”
Him or her being late for dinner could really be about you feeling your time and effort is not appreciated, you may feel disrespected or taken for granted. These thoughts point to an imbalance in the relationship that is much harder to negotiate on. Respect for example has to be earned before it can be given. Feeling important or feeling loved could be just a difference in your preferred love languages or even the result of external stressors like job difficulties.
Once you start being aware of the real reason you are upset, many more potential strategies become available.
To resolve any ongoing conflict, it’s worth paying attention to what hides several levels underneath the reason you think you’re fighting. This way you will be able to create your own list of needs and requirements and identify real solutions to the real problem (rather than keep complaining about stuff that will have little impact).
If you notice that all your conflicts ultimately boil down to 3 or 4 core issues, clearly defining what those are and communicating them to your partner without blaming them or complaining about them not noticing it before, will go a long way to get the peace you want.
Read this article (and more) in Hong Kong Living Magazine