Just because you love your partner does not mean that you won’t have arguments and disagreements and even moments when you feel like you can’t stand one another.
The most common types of conflict within relationships are triggered by/related to money problems, communication problems, emotional disconnect, and parenting if there are children involved. For those couples who don’t have children arguments may revolve around responsibilities, power differentials, and goals. Most of these issues though tend to hide other more deeply seeded ones such as attachment issues, abandonment and trust issues, or various forms of trauma. That is to say that what may appear as the problem is oftentimes a symptom of something deeper than what the eye can see.
We all bring our pasts into our relationships
You are the result of a combination of personality, values, past experiences and more, and so is your partner. The possibility of attaining a long-term idealistic (movie-like) type of love under these circumstances is quite slim. In effect, the complexity of your psyche has to be taken into account if you are to make any real progress in your relationship, handle conflicts in a healthy manner and finally learn how to make yourself happy (as well as one another).
Happy couples have a few things in common, and amongst them:
- They have realistic expectations of the other person (such as what their role is) and of the relationship,
- They are attuned to each other emotionally, and
- They view (and consequently adopt an attitude) where conflict is a natural part of change and relationship growth rather than a disaster that ends in a destroyed relationship.
Having realistic expectations
This is a big one and maybe you will find yourself in the lines to follow. Lots of people enter relationships with the expectation that it is the other person’s responsibility to make them happy. Objectively thinking it is easy to see how such expectations could lead to conflict. Unrealistic expectations are not always that visible though, sometimes we expect the other person to do something without voicing our opinion out loud, simply because we are under the impression that they “should know”. As a result, we look at the other person to fulfill us and become disappointed when –in our eyes- they fall short of the expectation we had in store for them.
Being very clear about what you expect of the other person and the relationship alone can help you get a good idea of where a lot of your conflicts stem from. Each time you notice yourself disappointed in your partner or your relationship, ask yourself: What was I hoping for? What were my assumptions? What were my expectations? If you are honest with yourself, you will be able to figure out what the unrealistic expectations are and what you can do to change them so they reflect the reality surrounding you.
Being emotionally attuned to each other
What does being emotionally attuned mean? It depends and it varies from person to person but the foundation of being emotional attuned is trust. Only by trusting the other person will you be able to open yourself emotionally to them and them to you.
Another key component is the willingness to be vulnerable with the other person in times of both peace and crisis (trust is again a major aspect of vulnerability). While most couples complain of communication issues, many times the root problem in actuality is that one or both members close themselves off emotionally and isolate themselves from each other.
When conflict occurs it is absolutely normal to react in whichever way you do, but once the initial reaction passes the emotionally attuned couple will talk about the ideas, reactions, behaviors, fears, etc and work together though those issues. Swiping the problem under the rug, ignoring it, or pretending that there is no problem tends to come with more issues.
Note: do not confuse being emotionally attuned to your partner to making assumptions about what they think or how they feel. This confusion is probably most prominent in long term relationships when one member assumes to know or be able to anticipate the other person’s reactions or behaviors. Being emotionally attuned to one another means that the communication channels are open on both sides and that assumptions are an unnecessary (and often hazardous) element of an ongoing discussion.
Viewing conflict as a natural part of change and relationship growth
This might sound counterintuitive to some, but conflict is a necessary part of relationship survival and growth. A relationship where conflict is avoided or suppressed can only lead the members of the couple to become disconnected, isolated from one another, and uncommunicative.
You can think of conflict as growing pains: we change constantly, learn new things that alter our perceptions and eventually who we used to be is no longer who we are; the same happens for our partners. Sometimes we grow in different areas or directions which can cause gaps within the relationship. Those gaps become areas of conflict and the perfect opportunity to acknowledge the changes and work together to understand how things shifted for yourself and the other person as well as find the optimal way to rebalance and recalibrate your relationship to the new reality.