I am always shocked when couples proudly announce that they don’t fight. My mind instantly wanders to the potential passive aggressive and manipulative behaviour that may be occurring for a couple if they never fight. It seems that there is a socially created idea that healthy couples never have conflict, but I would like to proffer that it is in fact unhealthy relationships that never see conflict. Conflict is a part of every healthy relationship and it is important for growth, change and resilience within relationships. While there may be unhealthy ways of fighting, if done with respect for the other person, fighting can be revolutionary for relationships.
If no one is fighting within a relationship, there may be a few other things that are happening instead. One or both partners may be repressing all of their desires or emotions in order to maintain the status quo. What this means is that even though you may feel annoyed or agitated with something in the relationship, you choose not to express your feelings. Repressing feelings in this way leads to compromise, usually internally, that will always out. When we fail to express what it happening for us, it will inevitably lead to expression elsewhere. This may be through escapist behaviours such as drinking alcohol or zoning out, or one might seek alternative ways of expressing themselves, perhaps by confiding in someone else.
Instead of honest conversations, passive aggressive behaviours may be occurring. This means that even though things may look sweet on the surface, there can be an undertone of resentment or anger. The worst thing about passive aggression is that it is always so difficult to pin point. You know that there is negativity being directed towards you, but it is done so covertly that you can never identify the specifics. Whether you are the target or instigator of passive aggressive behaviour, it may lead to lack of trust and fear within a relationship, which usually results in emotional distance between partners. If you find yourself unable to express your emotions or feelings in an honest and open way, here are some tips to start to get real in your relationship.
Healthy Conflict Essentials:
1. Own Your Feelings
Most of us have been taught to disown our feelings in favour of being polite, particularly women. We have been told to smile and play nice so as not to rock the boat and keep everyone happy. So it goes against the grain for many of us to honestly state our feelings, but this is not the healthiest way to deal with them. Naming your feelings in a way that you retain personal responsibility can open up a more productive conversation. Simply stating how you feel allows your partner to be informed, as well as respond from a place of personal responsibility too.
2. Clearly Express Your Experience
Being honest about what is going on for you isn’t always easy, particularly as sometimes you may not even know exactly how to define your feelings. And that’s okay, even just saying that you are feeling off but don’t really know why can help you to get in touch with your feelings in a more constructive way. If your experience of something seemingly insignificant has got you riled, it is important to mention this. Don’t allow yourself to be dismissed as “over-emotional”, and if you are, ask your partner to respect the fact that your feelings are valid.
3. Curb The Tendency To Blame
All that being said, remember that usually it is no-one’s fault that you feel the way you do. The same thing could happen at a different time and your response could be completely different, so have some compassion for yourself and your partner. Whether you are prone to blaming yourself or your partner for your feelings and experiences, remember that we are all human, and to err is to be human. Creating the space for imperfection allows you to appreciate the gift in all situations.
Remember that conflict doesn’t have to look like it does for other people. A simple and honest conversation might be all it takes to work out relationship challenges. Whatever your style of conflict, understand that holding on to your feelings may cause resentment. While it isn’t always easy to get honest, it could create a deeper relationship.