Arguing in relationships, fighting in relationships, or having conflict in relationships are painful roadblocks to connection. Yet, as we learn to understand what drives our conflict, we can change how we relate and open new paths of growth between us.
What happens when you and your partner want different things? How do you interpret this situation? How do you react? Do you argue in relationships? Do you fight in relationships?
Some possible scenarios
- I argue with my partner, and we get into a fight.
- My partner doesn’t understand me, and I get upset.
- They are difficult.
- They have different needs, and I think that is okay.
- I get angry and yell.
- I feel distraught and don’t know what to do.
- This is normal and part of every relationship. We need to talk about it.
- I need to process this on my own.
- I feel compelled to get what I want.
- I feel kindness towards my partner because I know my partner is doing their best and simply doesn’t always want what I want.
Obviously, there are a lot of possible interpretations and reactions. How we interpret and react to this situation tells us a lot about ourselves and our relationship. It can show us where we get stuck and what skills we need to develop in ourselves.
An example of conflict in a relationship
Gemma and Jorge own a boat. It is a lot of work for them, yet they love exploring with their vessel. Jorge has an accident and becomes somewhat disabled. He feels vulnerable boating and loses interest in the boat.
Gemma gets upset when Jorge tells her he doesn’t want to boat anymore. Gemma does not want to give up boating. She doesn’t want to lose this part of their life and tries to convince him to want to continue boating. When he doesn’t change his mind, she begins to look at what she likes so much about the boat.
As she looks inside, she realizes that being able to boat makes her feel more self-sufficient. It allows her a different way to travel and explore. As Gemma processes her thoughts and feelings, she realizes that she could keep the boat if she wanted to boat without her husband. And she realizes this is not what she wants. Gemma does not wish to boat alone or boat with others. She wants to go boating with Jorge as a couple’s activity.
Gemma decides that she will find another fun activity to do with her husband instead of boating. She decides she would rather do this than boat alone or boat with someone else. She lets go of her attachment to the boat, and the kind of self-sufficiency the boat offered her.
What happened in the story above?
After the disagreement, Gemma was upset. She expressed her feelings and looked to see if her partner was flexible.
On seeing that he was not, Gemma began to look more deeply into her feelings. She began to look at what the boating meant to her. She began to look at what part of boating was meaningful to her, and whether she wanted to do it without her husband.
She came to a realization about herself. Self-sufficiency was meaningful to her, but she was willing to let it go in the boating context. Ultimately, she decided to find another activity that she and Jorge could do together.
This is an example of productive processing that enables a solution neither Gemma nor Jorge was initially aware of.
Identify where you get stuck
Where do you get stuck in the process of working through a disagreement?
- We argue and cannot find a way out of our argument or conflict in a relationship.
- I cannot let go of my feelings of hurt, and these feelings block me from understanding more about why I am so upset.
- I judge my partner instead of being able to be curious about their feelings and desire.
- I don’t know how to process what an event means metaphorically or symbolically.
- I get stuck in insisting on my way.
- I can’t let go of what I think I need – even when holding onto it hurts my relationship.
- What I want is more important than what would be best for our relationship.
Identify why you get stuck
If you get stuck in arguing, it is crucial to figure out why. What are you fighting for? Because what we are fighting for will usually not be the obvious content of the fight. It will often be a deeper meaning than the thing itself. (For example, Gemma was fighting for a shared activity that made her feel more self-sufficient. This is deeper than boating.) Usually, the thing you are fighting over-represents something to you. This is what you have to dig up. So you can think about this and discuss it with your partner. Perhaps your partner will shift. Perhaps you will let go of something you thought you needed.
If you get stuck in hurt feelings, again, you have to figure out why you are hurt. Our differences are not hurtful so much as triggering something in us. Perhaps you feel unloved when your partner doesn’t agree with you. Why? Where is this feeling of being unloved coming from? What in your history tells you that you are not loveable?
If you get stuck in judgment, what is happening? What is getting triggered that causes you to judge? What aspect of your partner are you judging? What does this aspect represent to you?
Relationships are not only about connection, kindness and support. They are also in part, about the process of individuation. This means that we slowly become a whole person who relates to another whole person. If we cannot do this, we are merged and cannot function well without merging – which means we must agree on everything to be okay. As soon as a disagreement arises, you will find your relationship stuck again.
Digging down into your arguing and conflicts and looking deeper will help you find new solutions and paths of growth in your relationship. You will develop a closeness that comes when two interdependent people love each other, respect their differences, and do not have to be the same.
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