I'm always shocked when couples proudly announce that they don’t fight. My mind instantly wanders to the fact that, in the place of fighting, these couples probably exhibit all kinds of passive aggressive and manipulative behaviors. After all, so-called "negative" feelings (which are inevitable in any relationship) have to go somewhere.
The One Thing All Healthy Couples Do
There is a socially-created idea that healthy couples never have conflict.
Conflict is a part of every healthy relationship. It's a prerequisite for growth, change and resilience within relationships. While there may be unhealthy ways of fighting, fighting can also be revolutionary for relationships.
If no one is expressing conflict-inducing feelings within a relationship, there may be a few other things that are happening instead. One or both partners may be repressing all of their desires or emotions in order to maintain the status quo. What this means is that even though you may feel annoyed or agitated with something in the relationship, you choose not to express your feelings.
When we fail to express what it happening for us, it will inevitably lead to expression elsewhere. This may be through escapist behaviors such as drinking alcohol or zoning out, or perhaps by confiding in someone else.
Instead of honest conversations, passive aggressive behaviors bubble up. And the worst thing about passive aggression is that it's always so difficult to pin-point. You know that there is negativity being directed towards you, or that there is an undertone of resentment beneath all of your interactions, but it is done so covertly that you can never identify the specifics.
Regardless of whether you're the target or instigator of passive aggressive behavior, it may lead to lack of trust and fear within a relationship, which usually results in emotional distance between partners. So if you find yourself unable to express your emotions or feelings in an honest and open way, here are some tips to start to get real in your relationship.
Here are three essentials for healthy conflict.
1. Take responsibility for your feelings.
Most of us (particularly women) have been taught to disown our feelings in favor of being polite. We've been told to smile and play nice so as not to rock the boat and keep everyone happy. So, for many (perhaps most) of us, honestly stating our feelings is a major challenge.
That said, naming your feelings can open up a more productive conversation. Simply stating how you feel directly allows your partner to be informed, as well as respond from a place of personal responsibility, too. Instilling this dynamic of transparency will create greater emotional balance in your relationship.
2. Clearly express yourself in terms of your experience.
Being honest about what is going on for you isn’t always easy, particularly given that you may not even know exactly how to define your feelings.
Well, that's OK. And if that's the case, it's also OK to voice your uncertainty, even if you just say something like, "I'm feeling off, but I don't really know why." Simply voicing this sentiment can help you to get in touch with your feelings in a more constructive way.
If your experience of something seemingly insignificant has got you riled, it is important to mention this. Don’t allow yourself to be dismissed as “over-emotional”, and if you are, ask your partner to respect the fact that your feelings are valid.
3. Curb the tendency to blame.
Remember that usually it is no-one’s fault that you feel the way you do. The same thing could happen at a different time and your response could be completely different, so have some compassion for yourself and your partner.
Whether you're prone to blaming yourself or your partner for your feelings and experiences, remember that we are all human, and to err is to be human. Creating the space for imperfection allows you to appreciate the gift in all situations.
A simple and honest conversation might be all it takes to work out relationship challenges. Whatever your style of conflict, understand that holding on to your feelings may cause resentment. While it isn’t always easy to get honest, it could create a deeper relationship.