Moments of conflict don’t mean that there is something wrong with you or your relationship. In fact, they show you how much you both need each other in order to feel at ease in the world.
That’s probably a new concept you’re just beginning to think about, so now is a great time for me to get as clear as possible about this. Let’s break it down.
I probably use words like conflict and fighting more broadly than you do.
Fighting, arguing, feeling dissatisfied, a tiff, the cold shoulder, bickering, sniping, being passive aggressive, the silent treatment, WHATEVER it is that you and your partner suffer through when you have friction, I consider conflict.
If one or both of you is shouting, that clearly is a fight. But I also consider it a fight when the two of you sit quietly while feeling let down by the other.
When I say things like fighting is a good thing or conflict is normal, I mean that if you hurt emotionally when you experience disconnection it means you still love each other. On the other side of conflict is an opportunity to love up those vulnerable parts of each other that surfaced during disconnection.
I definitely DO NOT mean that you should pick a fight with your partner in order to make up later. And I’m definitely not giving ANYONE license to behave in ways that are abusive or controlling.
Because we are imperfect, we sometimes behave in ways that aren’t helpful (at best) and hurtful (at worst). Conflict can be ugly.
However, I want to be extremely precise about what is clearly out of bounds.
I lived at Esalen in Big Sur, California. It’s kinda like the Harvard of all this personal development stuff. And I believe in the one simple rule we followed within that community: no violence and no threats of violence.
If there is violence or a threat of violence in your relationship, that’s not normal and it most definitely is not okay.
If you are harming your partner, please seek support immediately. You can start by clicking here. I want you to be kind to yourself. All reactivity is born out of pain inside, and the part of you in pain is worthy of love and compassion.
And if you experience domestic violence you need to seek safety and professional help away from the relationship. Do not try to work with your partner to discuss your emotional patterns if there is a risk of violence or threats of violence. Please reach out for help online or by phone at https://www.thehotline.org | 1-800-799-7233
Be kind to yourself and to each other!
Fiachra (Figs) O´Sullivan is a certified emotionally focused couples counselor and the founder of Empathi, an online coaching program for couples. As heard on NPR’s All Things Considered, Figs provides in-person couples counseling in San Francisco’s Inner Sunset neighborhood, where he lives with his wife, daughter, son and doodle. If you are curious about your own relationship, take Figs´ Relationship Quiz and get free, actionable and personalized guidance on how to feel more connected!