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How to Resolve Conflicts in Relationships

Conflict is an essential and inevitable part of every intimate relationship.

Key points

  • As children, many came to believe that conflict in a relationship is a problem to be avoided.
  • As kids, many people confused conflict, or fighting, with the abuse that accompanied it.
  • Conflict resolution, or "fair fighting," is a learned skill that allows partners to argue without abuse.

As children, we hated when our parents fought, when the ugliness of domestic conflicts boiled over into yelling, name-calling, door slamming and crying. For some of us, it got a lot worse than that. So it's perfectly understandable that, as children, we came to believe that conflict in a relationship was a problem to be avoided.

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Later, in our adult lives, this experience from our earlier years translated into an active effort to avoid engaging in conflict with the ones we love.

You may have found yourself saying something like, "Can we not fight about it, please?" or "Let's never fight, okay?"

This may sound very appealing, to never fight and live in peace with the ones we love. However, the conclusions we came to as children might need a tweak or two.

The Truth About Conflict

As kids, many of us confused conflict, or fighting, with the abuse that accompanied it. We equated the notion of two people having a problem they needed to resolve with yelling, name-calling, crying, throwing objects, and, in some instances, hitting.

The fact that most everyone confuses conflict with abuse is rather obvious because we see conflict become abusive in business, politics, religion, and, of course, relationships. This leads many of us to conclude that the real problem is conflict, but it's not.

Abuse Is the Problem, Not Conflict

No matter how many times you may have witnessed or experienced conflict with abuse, the fact remains that other people have learned to engage in conflict without abuse. Instead of all that yelling, they have learned to confront one another in a way that allows them to address their issues with their loved ones, resolve them in a peaceful and respectable manner, and move on.

Now, you have to realize that, if they can do it, so can the rest of us.

Think About It

If you hate arguing, there are probably two reasons why:

  1. A simple discussion about a difference of opinion becomes an abusive, hurtful exchange.
  2. The argument never seems to help resolve the problems that were so annoying.

This last idea refers to the fact that often, even two highly successful individuals, after forming a strategic alliance, suck at becoming an effective team. Upon encountering a problem, they are unable to resolve the problem that has each person unhappy. These two people don't technically suck as people; what sucks is their skill in resolving conflict.

Abuse Is Optional

Abuse, at the end of all the confusion, anger, and hurt, is optional. We can all learn to fight without being abusive to those we love.

Conflict resolution, or as I prefer to call it, "fair fighting," is a learned skill. We are not born knowing how to do it, but we can learn it and get better at it with practice.

If we want to have successful loving relationships and teach our children to do likewise, we have to learn how to fight fairly because conflict is an essential and inevitable part of every intimate relationship.

Recognize Your Patterns

To end the cycle of abuse in your relationships, you (and your partner) must first accept that conflict is an essential and inevitable part of every intimate relationship. Second, you (and your partner) must remove all abusive behaviors during conflict: yelling, door slamming, name-calling, eye-rolling, etc.

Some of these behaviors you (and your partner) may not even be aware that you are doing, so pay attention! Recognize your patterns of behavior so you can break them and start resolving conflicts without abuse.

Building Intimacy Through Conflict

After learning how to end the self-destructive cycle of abuse, you can work on resolving conflicts in a way that will build intimacy and bring you and the ones you love closer together than you ever thought possible.

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