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All couples can expect to experience conflict at some point along the shared journey of their loving relationship. In the early stages of getting to know one another we generally have a desire not to fight because we feel our partner will think less of us. We may also wish to avoid conflict because we feel things will get out of hand, or that we may lose one another or damage the foundations we are building within our relationship.
Conflict Is Not All Bad
But conflict is not all bad and in many instances an appropriate airing of thoughts, feelings and awarenesses can contribute to a greater sense of understanding, respect, trust and love between couples. But conflict can also become an agent of destruction, mistrust and ill-feeling causing prolonged unhappiness and hostility between couples. Extensive research in the United States (John & Julie Gottman, 1999) indicate that pretty much all couples fight, even the very happy ones. The crucial difference is that committed couples in lasting relationships maintain a high level of respect for one another that enable them to recover more quickly from conflict.
How Do We Fight?
While our underlying position is that we do not wish to fight with our partner, we are sometimes energised to get our point across and defend ourselves from the accusations our partner appears to be levelling at us. And we frequently believe we could get our point across if only our partner wasn’t so defensive, thin-skinned, unfeeling or stubborn. The irony here is that our partner is probably feeling and thinking exactly the same. When confronted with conflict we regularly revert to form: that is we behave in a manner consistent with how we have handled conflict in the past. In many instances our resources for dealing with conflict come directly from the learned behaviour emanating from our family of origin. So perhaps we need to ask ourselves how we have dealt with conflict in the past, and what was the earliest memory of conflict within our family of origin?
Conflict in Family of Origin
So when conflict develops within our relationship do we revert to childhood defensiveness? For instance if our partner asks: “how did the tiles on the kitchen floor become so soiled?” do we reply, “I don’t know, it wasn’t me?” Or do we resort to childhood blaming? “It must have been your man who came in to fix the dishwasher.” Or do embrace childhood aggression? “Is that all you have to worry about, the bloody tiles on the kitchen floor?”
Owning Your Part
We frequently fight not about the crucial components of our relationship, but because of the inequity or perceived inequity concerning the more mundane household chores: putting out the bins, washing down the shower after use, cleaning the crumbs from the kitchen counter. But as in all such exchanges within relationships, the first principle of loving behaviour is to acknowledge your part in creating this situation. “Yes, I forgot to clean down the shower, and I know it wasn’t my first time either.”
Reflect on an argument with your partner that you handled badly! Now write a short note to your partner owning your part in this situation and how you might approach this issue differently next time! Share with your partner what is most difficult for you when you fight!