Many people are under the impression that they can avoid trouble in their relationships by not arguing. They mistakenly assume that the absence of fighting – or any disagreement – is an indication that the relationship is healthy. But that assumption is wrong.
The most successful relationships consist of two people getting what they want simply because they are being who they are. In good relationships, conflicts are viewed as temporary and resolvable. Dealbreakers are not as issue, because each party sees evidence that the other is getting from of the relationship what’s satisfactory to him or her. Because of this mutual security, it’s automatically expected that conflict will be resolvable, and is the exception rather than the norm. Each partner wants to see the other as happy as possible, simply because that is the source of his or her own happiness.
Avoiding conflict on principle can lead to a non-authentic relationship where false assumptions will build up on one or both sides. When one of those mistaken assumptions is contradicted or betrayed, resentment develops. The problem could be prevented by allowing conflict into the mix earlier on, rather than being so conflict-avoidant that a larger battle is finally unavoidable.
In a personal or romantic relationship, most issues (even minor ones) boil down to hurt feelings. In many cases, hurt feelings are caused by a lack of visibility in some instance. In other words, if you feel your spouse/partner was not listening to you, or paying attention to what’s important to you, then there’s some resentment. Most of these problems can be resolved by simply expressing your hurt feelings — not in a hostile or offensive way, but simply as a matter of fact. When expressing those feelings, it’s best to do so benevolently, i.e., with an assumption on your part that you genuinely realize that no harm was intended, though hurt feelings did end up being the result. It’s less in the spirit of accusation and more in the context of, “Just letting you know how I felt about what you said [or did].”
Healthy, mature individuals love their partners and do not want to hurt them. They want their partners to feel visible, and they want them to know how important they are to them. Acknowledging hurt feelings or other misunderstandings should not be something to avoid. It should be something that’s always assumed to be resolvable and fixable, even with just a few minutes of communication.
When you’re hurt or upset about something, it’s wise to view it in a wider context. For example, ask yourself, “What am I really upset about here? Is it really this thing I’m focusing on, or is it something else? Is it just one instance of my feelings being hurt, or is it part of what I see as a wider pattern?” The clearer you are about these things before communicating your feelings to a loved one, the better you’ll be able to explain yourself when asked to do so. Should every single hurt feeling be brought up? No. It’s not necessary. But if it’s something you view as a large incident or a pattern of incidents that isn’t going away, then it’s better to bring it up than let it boil beneath the surface.
“Not fighting” is not something to strive for, if by that you mean avoiding conflict at any price. It’s better and healthier to embrace the conflict in a rational and benevolent way than to pretend it doesn’t exist and have it come back later to bite you and your partner where it can hurt the most.
Michael J. Hurd, Life’s a Beach
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