Conflict in Relationships: Exploring my Role
Conflict is a common and inevitable occurrence in relationships. Think of a time you and your partner had differing opinions on something important. What did you do? How did you resolve it or did you? When I think of conflict I like to think of it as a way to understand another piece of my partner. We can learn a lot about ourselves and each other by digging into our own perspectives and hearing our partner’s. When our goal shifts from “we need to agree on this” to “help me understand where that comes from for you” compromise comes a little easier. Conflict stems from various differing perspectives when trying to connect.
Let’s dive in!
Common causes of conflict include: Communication issues/lack of understanding the other’s perspective, trust, betrayal, finances, differences in expectations and values, lack of emotional connection, lack of intimacy, external stressors and even power struggles within the relationship.
That’s a lot to think about. I’m going to break this down into three articles. First let’s focus on:
· Communication/lack of understanding
· Lack of emotional connection/intimacy
Communication/Lack of understanding and how it affects conflict in our relationships/marriage:
Think of a time when you felt like you were misunderstood or felt like your partner just didn’t get you. This goes both ways and when we are both feeling misunderstood, we feel less connected with our partner. This can lead to feeling like we need to defend ourselves or frustrated and alone. When we anticipate having to defend ourselves, we react more harshly and are even less likely to try and understand our partner. This feeds the cycle of not feeling heard and feeling unloved. Then an argument or shutdown ensues.
What do we do with this, you ask? What I often share with my clients is the importance of slowing down and getting curious. We can get curious about what is going on with ourselves or we can get curious about what our partner is truly trying to share with us. If you are feeling heated take that break but if you are in a place to ask questions, try a couple and see what you learn.
When trying to understand your role and how you play a part in the misunderstandings look into yourself and your own reactions. Try and gain some understanding as to where your reactions come from. Did that comment remind of being a child and what adults might say to me? And those comments left me feeling alone or like I have to tackle things on my own? Or did that comment cause me to feel like a failure? Or like no matter what I do it’s not the right thing.
Having a clearer understanding of what conflict means in the moment helps us heal. Especially, when we share it with our partner and they can take it in and validate it with us.
Trust is a big one! Without trust what do we have in a relationship? How do we feel safe? When trust is missing from our relationship it makes it difficult to be vulnerable and in turn defeats a big reason for emotional/intimate relationships. As human beings we crave being understood and important. We also crave a feeling of safety to take risks and to fully reach our potential as individuals. We learn this as children and it plays out in adulthood through our romantic relationships. When trust is broken it can lead to emotional pain, distress, anxiety, fear and deep-seated conflict.
In keeping with the theme of this article, what is my role in how trust shows up in our relationship? Have I betrayed my partner? If so, how can I work with them to help build back that trust. How do I ensure that I don’t hurt them like that again? Do I have the patience needed for my partner to rebuild that trust? Do I have the confidence in myself that I can be more vulnerable to ask for my own needs?
On the other side, how do I know I will be able to trust them again? What check-ins or habits do I need in place to rebuild that trust? How will I know when I feel safe again?
Working with trust and betrayal issues are hard because of the existential-ness (pretty sure that’s not a word, but you get it) of it all. It takes time and honesty, being able to ask for our needs and even some check-ins. We also want to rebuild trust without our relationship turning into something that feels like a parent/child relationship.
Overall, when working through trust issues a guide can really be beneficial. And, again, looking at my role in the situation. As I gain a broader understanding of underlying issues and the apprehension when talking about needs, I open myself up to being vulnerable with my partner.
Lack of Emotional Connection/Intimacy
Let’s talk about the importance of emotional connection. When we feel connected to our partner emotionally and are able to share hard vulnerable thoughts and feelings, we are also able to be more comfortable physically with our partner. A tricky aspect of this is we might feel closer to our partner in different ways. I might need physical intimacy to feel closer to my partner and then I am more comfortable sharing my emotions. My partner might be the opposite in that they need emotional closeness before they want to be physical. What do we do with that, right?
This takes time, understanding and compromise. In these moments, in sticking with our theme, we can look within ourselves to understand how we achieve feeling emotionally close with out partner. What are my needs and how can I ask for them? It can be a clumsy dance trying to avoid physical or emotional dissatisfaction which you guessed it can lead to conflict. Our differences in levels of desire or lack of emotional support can feel like neglect or dismissal.
If we want to move past this emotional strain we can start with our role in this. Let’s start with asking, How am I making requests for my own needs and how am I being open to my partner’s needs?
As we explore our own actions and reactions, we gain a better understanding of ourselves, our own needs and how that can look to our partner. Maybe we even notice some things we could do differently or ways we can be more understanding toward the one we love so much. Resolving conflict in relationships and marriages requires self-realization, empathy, effective communication and compromise. It’s important that we approach this with the goal of understanding and in a constructive and respectful way. Understanding each other’s perspectives lends us to being able to find mutually beneficial solutions. This happens when we can thoroughly understand and describe the roles we play within conflict.
If roadblocks persist and are negatively impacting your connection seeking professional help from a therapist or counselor is a great option.
This is my challenge to you: step back, explore, evaluate yourself and report back your findings. I’m so curious about what you learn.
Until next time.