amarpreet25/Pixabay
Source: amarpreet25/Pixabay

Withdrawal as a method of conflict management in a couple is as effective and risky as withdrawal as a method of birth control: The pleasure of the relationship is profoundly affected in both examples.

A Yiddish proverb states “You can't dance at two weddings with one behind.” At times, conflicts are inevitable. Sometimes, they are hard to resolve. But always they are worth addressing. A productive argument is often the kindest way to show “I Love You”. 

Calm discussion of a disagreement allows a clearer definition of a problem and is the first step to finding a resolution for a conflict. What you argue about, when you argue, and how you argue all have consequences and determine when and whether arguing can be used as a weapon for power or a tool to enhance intimacy.

What are some common love-relationship conflicts?

  • Conflicts of time and place. Two children have concerts in different schools on the same night. You have an important meeting, your husband needs to see a doctor, and he can’t drive with his broken arm. Your son-in-law’s grandmother dies and a student’s Dissertation Defense is scheduled for the same time as the funeral. Your child’s team goes to the championship round and you are in a distant city. 
  • mattysimpson/Pixabay
    Source: mattysimpson/Pixabay

    Conflicts of demands. One spouse craves a restful vacation on a beach; the other needs the stimulation of a city or an adventure. A child marries and must decide with whom, where, and how to celebrate future holidays and milestones. The more complex the family structure, like adding divorce, remarriage, or ambiguous status into the picture, the more complicated these demands can become.

  • Educational or work requirements can put your position or livelihood at risk if you choose to support a loved one instead of prioritizing your own role. What takes priority when your parent/spouse/child/loved one suffered a nasty fall and you are in charge of a team activity at work.
  • Potential disappointments. A loved one forgot to forewarn you of a need or an event and you neglected to plug it into your calendar. Your heart is set on a different agenda.
  • Conflicts that arise from insufficient planning. You cannot go to the concert unless you get tickets and if you do not get them quickly, they will be sold out. Do you even have time to consult? Do you both want to go? If so, who is going to nab the tickets? Will something else need re-arranging?
  • Conflicts of power. You want to drive your car and your partner wants to drive his. There is no good reason for a choice (e.g., one of you has an all-wheel drive and it is snowing or one car has a larger space for cargo and much needs to be hauled). The real issue is decision-making — how do you do it? Who has the power to decide, why, when, and how?
  • Conflicts reflecting discomfort over closeness or distance. Often a couple will wind up in conflict over an issue that is not an issue at all. Rather, one of them is feeling too close or too distant. Arguing is sometimes a way to get some emotional or psychic distance or, even better, to reconnect.

How can conflicts like these be resolved amicably, with civility?

  • geralt/Pixabay
    Source: geralt/Pixabay

    Agree about times for discussion to take place. Such talks can be part of normal routines, like a Sunday night schedule review. Or the couple can pledge they will never go to bed without a resolution of something that leaves one (or both) feeling hurt or angry. 

  • Identify level of urgency. Because of potential conflicts in perspective or desire, two people can feel very differently about the same issue. In that instance, sharing a signal about level of urgency can help identify whether the conflict itself is high drama, perhaps displaced from some other issue, or something important enough that air time is being requested and is indeed urgent.
  • Acknowledge differences. Accepting that two people can have different points of view can go a long way to finding ways to accomodate  those differences.   
  • Sometimes the old standbys can help address conflicts. Take turns with responsibilities; divide and conquer. Assign tasks until one person feels the division is unfair, unfeasible or unsuitable. Hire something out. (Outsourcing can work in a couple.)
  • Call a time-out and take a nap. As Tara Parker-Pope points out in a recent article, conflicts are worse when people are sleep-deprived. 
  • Alternately, use the time-out to gain some emotional distance. Exercise.  Complete a task that has been nagging. Do NOT bring in a third person, especially as a distraction or a referee. The temptation to triangulate can be way too great. If you feel tempted to seek the support of others for your point of view, ask yourself why. Do you feel you need additional reasons for your viewpoint, that how you feel is not enough? Do you believe or are you worried or fearful that you cannot negotiate effectively against a powerful “other”?

Why can addressing conflict show love?

  • It underlines the strength of the relationship, that it can endure — and maybe even become stronger — when differences are addressed and solutions embraced. Fears of abandonment  abate; pressures to cave in recede.
  • Faith becomes an assumption of the couple. A belief that problems can be identified and solutions discovered or devised and implemented supports a positive outlook on competence within the couple.
  • It recognizes the pain of conflict and its destructive impact on our attention, health and energy. By acknowledging the existence of a conflict, the additional burden that comes with denial lifts. By solving it, the negative impacts lighten. Any elephants left in the living room get up and leave.

What conflicts do you and a loved one most routinely struggle with? What is at the source of these  struggles? What response is your first inclination when a struggle begins? How does your loved one typically behave? How can you shift this dynamic so that discussion and resolution become the norm?

Copyright 2017 Roni Beth Tower

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