We all know the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but when it comes to relationships there’s a wide spectrum between “completely broke” and “needs work.”
The truth is, all relationships require work. Healthy relationships are in a constant state of growth and transformation. If your relationship has reached a point where things feel a little “stale” or even just routine, then it may be time to recharge, refocus and roll up your sleeves.
Your relationship should be a source of support and mutual satisfaction. As our lives get busy and our careers require attention, many of us feel like our relationships become routine or as though we’re just “going through the motions.” Maybe the relationship isn’t completely “broken” per se, but it doesn’t ignite that same spark of passion or that same fulfillment for us that it once did.
There are many ways that we can experience conflict in our relationships. In my new book, The Heart of the Fight we discuss underlying reasons and catalysts in the myriad of conflict types that we can experience in our partnerships. We can experience a sexual distance or dissatisfaction, conflicts over money, household tasks, or soft addictions that can drive a wedge in even the closest of relationships.
In between blame and accusations, and tears and frustration there are often many threads of truth that are interwoven into the conflict. Every fight stems from a yearning, a longing for acknowledgement of one’s feelings and sometimes simply noticing the truth and affirming the feelings behind it can be enough to dissipate the battle.
How often in a fight have you known that what your partner is saying contains a nugget of truth? Often it’s that very truth that gets under our skin and frustrates us—we even hate to acknowledge it at all. In fact, that truth pisses us off.
You know what? That’s the very thing you need to admit. Sometimes just saying it, “Ugh—you’re right and I don’t want to admit it, because I’m still really angry,” is enough to break through the blockage
We spin our wheels on the same topics, so fights end up becoming cyclical. When you start to feel like you’re just banging your head against the same wall, step back. Does your partner simply want to hear that you can see their point? It can be difficult, but expressing the truth always (even when you don’t want to) can help you break these reoccurring patterns
What Are We Fighting For?
At the core of each conflict, each frustration, there is a yearning. Maybe the conflict isn’t even overt. Perhaps it’s just a built up under-current of negativity, of dismissive and distant behavior. Whatever it is, what’s the outcome you desire?
If you’re longing for more support in your relationship, more intimacy, or acknowledgement, then why are you fighting about who needs to pick up their socks from the floor or put the toilet seat down? Even in the best relationships, there are things that irritate us. But before picking a fight or petty argument, examine the underlying issue.
When your husband is watching the football game and you’re trying to respond to client emails, are you frustrated simply because the television is loud? In which case, when you ask him nicely to turn it down because you’re working, does he do it? If you have thoughts like, “Yes, but only one decibel and then he turns it back up five minutes later” or “He ALWAYS ignores my need for a quiet workspace.” Then maybe the underlying issue isn’t the volume of the television but rather the fact that you’re not feeling supported in your work.
Too often we get caught in a cycle of nagging, resenting and whining, when we aren’t actually articulating the real issue at hand. Ultimately, the true yearnings behind our relationships and our needs are the drive for these seemingly small irritations. Acknowledge the truth behind the conflict, and fight for, not against, your desires.
Assume Good Will
Sometimes we forget that “he” or “she” isn’t the enemy. Our partner ACTUALLY likes us and wants to be with us. Even if things have faded or you’re in the midst of some intense periods of transformation and you feel frustrated, angry, resentful or ignored—at one time, beneath it all, your partner decided they enjoy being with you. You decided the same about them. Hold on to that goodwill.
So often when we’re engaging with our partner, things come out that might be hard to hear. We might be mean or say something we later regret. On the flipside, we might be hurt by a partner’s comment and withhold affection or passive-aggressively feel superior because we didn’t stoop to their level (still punishing behavior).
At some point, we need to step back and remind ourselves that for the most part, both sides of a relationship have goodwill towards each other. Our partner is not out to get us. It might not feel palpable at the moment, but it’s that very goodwill that can reframe a conflict and help us seek a productive outcome
Throughout engagement with our partner, we need to remember that there are certain rules we should follow to keep things fair and constructive. As your relationship grows, so will your connection to your partner. Working together strengthens intimacy. We come to know ourselves better as we view ourselves through the lens of our shared experiences and common goals. Transformative relationships support us and make us stronger and better versions of ourselves.