Conflict in a relationship: between the good and the bad

In today’s hustle and bustle, with all the dating apps, romantic comedies, or reality shows out there, one can easily forget that a relationship is work-in-progress, and conflict in a relationship is part of that work.

Conflict occurs in all relationships. From the slightest verbal disagreement to long-lasting arguments and misunderstandings, people argue sometimes, and that might not be necessarily a bad thing.

You cannot always have the same opinion as your partner. If you communicate effectively with each other, find the real underlying issue, and sometimes agree to disagree, then the conflict can make your relationship even stronger. But there’s a very fine line here.

What can cause conflict in a relationship?

People disagree on all kinds of matters. Once you two start getting into frequent fights, and can’t seem to work it out on your own, then the root of the problem is a little bit deeper.

From our couples therapy sessions, we can single out a few common causes that lead to conflicts in a relationship.

Poor communication

Without healthy communication, you won’t be able to fix your arguments, and they will reoccur. You need communication that goes deeper than “I told you to stop doing that”.

Communication starts with the listening process. You need to actively listen to your partner’s needs first. That means absorbing their every word without letting your mind fall into the trap of thinking arguments to counter-attack on the spot.

Poorly-placed expectations

Usually, we place such huge expectations on people’s shoulders that they instantly feel the weight and might rebel against us.

If your partner fails to meet certain expectations, you will probably feel betrayed and hurt. It is a natural feeling, but the problem is the expectation you have placed on their shoulders at first.

This is why you should always have an open dialogue on each other’s demands and expectations, to keep them in check.

Criticism and judgment

Judgment in a relationship is a problem in itself and we’ve discussed that in a separate article. Judgment works through severe criticism and can put up huge walls between partners that need a lot of therapy sessions to tear down.

As we tell all our people in couples’ therapy, constructive criticism is one thing, but demeaning critique, nagging is a whole new animal that can pierce even through the strongest love.  

The problem is you cannot really tell the difference between these two, because there’s a very thin, fine line separating them, and it can be crossed easily, without even knowing it.

Short-sightedness

Other people might call this selfishness, but we think that’s too harsh a word. Short-sightedness occurs when you cease to look beyond your own needs and desires and consider that they automatically coincide with those of your partner.

This sort of short-sightedness is probably the most common cause of conflicts in a relationship.

Is there a silver lining to relationship conflicts?

As we were discussing at the beginning of this article, there is also a positive side to conflicts, too. Yes, not all relationship conflicts are bad, not all lead to couples therapy.

The harsh truth is that without conflict, our relationships might never evolve. Conflict is part of the work that we need to put in to make a long-term relationship work.

By “conflict” here we mean the disagreements that can ultimately lead to understanding and common ground. They can allow you to see the relationship from your partner’s perspective, establish some healthy boundaries in your relationship, and build trust and understanding.

However, these benefits cannot be without dialogue.

The intentional dialogue process: mirroring, validation, and empathy

When the criticism, anger, and dissatisfaction levels reach an unbearable high, then the wisest decision would be to seek help.

Imago relationship therapy helps a couple explore the deeper root of their conflicts and determine the underlying causes.

Through the intentional dialogue process, we can facilitate contingent communication through a structured dialogue that involves active listening and speaking techniques.

Contingent communication happens when a partner’s vulnerability meets the validation and empathy from the other partner and vice-versa. This is the ideal result any dialogue in a relationship should aspire to.

There are three important steps to this process.

1.The Mirroring

You begin by repeating your partner’s words until both of you hear and understand the underlying meanings in those expressions.

2. The Validation

The listener summarises all the points that the sender has raised. They must show understanding towards the sender’s words.

relationship conflict

The receiver must explain why the sender’s experience is important, even if the receiver does not agree with it.

3. Showing empathy

The third and final stage of the process, it encourages both partners to appreciate their partner’s experience.

This process also requires both partners to be able to lower their defenses and engage in a kind of deep dialogue that might feel draining at first. However, in the long run, it will lead to deeply intimate long-lasting connections.

Conflicts should never be underestimated. If you feel like they’re eating too much at the core of your relationship, it is better to seek help fast, rather than wait. Relationships are living connections, they need vital energy to resist the test of time and that includes a lot of work on your side.

And when work gets too much, you can call in help! Contact us for more info!