by: E.B. Johnson
If you’re building a life with someone, then you’ll be no stranger to the arguments and the disagreements that arise. Merging two lives is no easy feat. You have to compromise and find new ways each and every day to meet in the middle. Sometimes, though, this journey toward compromise and can meet with setbacks and conflict. What are we to do when major conflicts arise?
The best way to deal with major conflict in our relationships is to prevent it. This is done by both partners striving to create healthy foundations that allow them to communicate openly and honestly at all times. Have you and your partner hit a wall? Are small fights turning into major breakdowns? Once you look at the reasons behind these escalations, you can both enhance your understanding and put things back on track.
Major conflict is (mostly) avoidable.
Although we like to think of love and romance as a smooth ride, it’s anything but. Just like life, our relationships are filled with ups and downs, good things and bad things. It’s not possible to build a life with someone and to agree with them on every single issue we encounter. We’re going to butt heads sometimes, but the major conflicts? Those are mostly avoidable.
Our fights and disagreements don’t have to escalate into nasty brawls or an all-out battle royale. Partners who truly love one another can allow for differences, and they can maintain their respect and compassion for one another throughout almost any challenge (hey, we’re all human).
What happens when you and your partner disagree or mis-communicate? Do things turn nasty? Does your relationship get threatened? These escalations aren’t necessary and can be prevented. Look for the little cracks that are leading to torrents of negativity and lock them down with honesty and a mutual focusing on dealing with things up-front and candidly. Allowing things to fester only ensures bigger drama later on down the road.
What brings us to the breaking point?
There are contributing factors when it comes to escalation and small arguments become major blowups. When you peel back the layers, there’s often a reason we push things beyond the line, or into a place things don’t need to go. Part of preventing this escalation is understanding what feeds it.
Life is challenging, and it is filled with responsibilities for us outside of our relationships. We have to nurture our spirits, while seeing to our work and the bonds we have with our families. This can leave you exhausted and overwhelmed, which doesn’t always leave you with the clearest head when it comes to balancing conflict and processing your emotions. That’s why it’s so important to give yourself time to walk away and find yourself before confronting anyone.
Do you jump to conclusions or fly off the handle when your partner approaches you about issues? What about your loved one or spouse? How do they react when you raise questions about their behaviors or decisions? When we explode or respond with over-the-top reactions, it forces our partners to believe their expression and honesty are no longer safe. They may retreat and stop opening up, or they may choose to make things worse by responding in kind.
One of the of the most common reasons behind conflict escalation is the simple act of miscommunication. When we don’t stay open and talking with one another all the time, we leave a lot of empty space for interpretation. Our insecurities usually take advantage of this and create the worst scenarios and narratives inside our minds. With these nightmares to hand, we approach our partners emotionally and with warped views of realities in our heads.
Personalizing is one of the most toxic traits we develop, and it’s especially common among those dealing with narcissistic personality disorders. It’s a way of turning everything inward to be a direct reflect of self. Instead of seeing your partner’s issues with you as simple mistakes that have to be worked out, you see any approach as a personal affront on your character. This endless personalization makes it impossible to work together.
Lack of effort
Our relationships (and the conflicts we have in them) require both parties to put in effort and seek resolution. When you come to a partner with an issue and they shut down, it can lead to serious resentment and an escalation of the issues you’re already struggling with. If we decide to be in an intimate relationship, we are automatically committed to a certain level of contribution — and that includes working things out when they go wrong.
Assumptions and labels
What happens when you and your partner fight? Do you jump to assumptions about their actions or their feelings? Do they diminish the points you’re trying to make, or slap you with labels that make you feel small? All of these things only serve to inflame an argument and compound the problems you and your partner are facing. It’s always an efficient way of avoiding the hard work of personal growth and change within a relationship.
Blame games never work when it comes to de-escalating conflict. It only forces our partners to further personalize the point we’re making and go on the defensive when we need them to remain open. Pointing fingers serves no real purpose save to aggravate things. We should, instead, remain focused on resolutions and allow our partners to handle their own responsibility-taking and learning.
Playing with triggers
There are certain behaviors or even phrases which can really trigger us or “set us off” in the heat of an emotional moment. Our partners witness this and can take advantage of it in the worst possible instances. When we lose our cool, however, we lose our focus and our power. We can begin to see red and detach from our sense of compassion and mutual respect. No matter how upset we might be, triggers should always be avoided.
The best ways to prevent major conflict in your relationship.
Most of the conflict experienced in a healthy relationship is minor. But small inconsistencies can transform little misunderstandings into major breakdowns. In order to prevent this escalation, we have to get a handle on our emotions and commit to being honest with one another up-front. Drop your egos, make communication a cornerstone, and meet your own needs more often.
1. Find your feet before reacting
Too often, our small arguments escalate into major conflict because we jump into confrontation before we have a clear perspective on things. Emotions are complex, and they can be overwhelming when we’re battling them alongside the outside pressures of our everyday life. It’s easy to overreact, but it can be harder to take a step back and process. This processing is necessary, though, if you want to prevent your small arguments turning into over-the-top blowups.
When things get heated, stop yourself in your tracks and retreat. Put things on pause and pull back to give yourself time to question how you really feel, and what you truly want to resolve. Think through your approach, and the pros and cons of diving into the deep end of confrontation.
Don’t snap. Don’t give in to blaming or the temptation of getting “justice” when your feelings are hurt, or things don’t go your way. Have enough respect for yourself and your partner to walk away and form a coherent argument. Then, come back to the table when you can be cool, calm, and collected. Speak to one another as adults. Remember that you’re approaching someone that you love, and work to facilitate a conversation in which both of you come out with a bit of a win.
2. Seek peace sooner rather than later
While it’s crucial that you walk away to process how you feel before you confront a partner, you also have to be timely in addressing your grievances with them. The longer you allow your negative feelings to fester, the more likely your argument is to escalate into something far bigger and nastier than it needs to be. Walk away, compose your thoughts, then sit down with your partner and have an honest conversation.
Don’t wait until you feel “comfortable”. That may never happen. Instead, once you have a handle on your feelings, find a safe space in which the two of you can talk without interruption. Approach them as a friend and avoid blaming language. Explain how you feel and why you feel that way, then express any ideas you have on moving forward.
Once you’ve said what you need to say, leave room for your partner to do the same. Don’t cut them off and don’t be defensive. Communication is a give-and-take process. You both have to make room for one another to open up, and you have to ensure that you both are safe to say what you need to say. Drop your judgements of one another and make it safe for you each to be vulnerable and compromising.
3. Drop your egos from the equation
There is no bigger fuel to the fire of major conflict than ego. More often than not, our egos push us into a defensive position in which we feel the need to lash out or attack those we perceive to be attacking us. A partner comes to you with an issue, and you take it as a personal affront rather than seeing it as a natural and a normal mistake to rectify. That puts you in a defensive position, and can make you angrier and harder to negotiate with.
Drop your egos from the equation. Stop taking everything your partner takes issue with as a personal insult. Not everything is a reflection of your character. We’re all human and we all make mistakes embrace it. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, it just means you still have room to improve your life.
See conflict as a means of getting back on the same page, rather than seeing it as attacks on who you are or what you want. It’s okay to admit that you got something wrong. It’s okay to admit that you need to (or could do) better than you’re currently doing. That’s life. The sooner both of you can admit your shortcomings, the quicker you can get back on the same page and back to building a mutual future together.
4. Make communication a cornerstone
Communication is a cornerstone of a very successful relationship. It also happens to be one of the most powerful tools we have when it comes to preventing major explosions and conflict in our relationships. When you communicate with one another all the time, it leaves little room for misunderstandings. That means you can stay connected and focused on the same things without constantly stepping on one another’s toes.
Talk to each other. Not just when the kids go to bed. Not just when you pass one another at the coffee machine in the morning. Make a committed effort to talk to one another every single day in a real and meaningful way. Be present. Share your days, what’s going on with your feelings.
Part of the purpose of an intimate relationship is being able to rely on one another for emotional support. That’s not to say we should make our partner’s heft our burden, but we should be open with them and strive to let them into our world whenever we can. Don’t wait until tensions are running high to try to be open (though it’s certainly important at that point). Talk to one another all the time and make conversation and communication a cornerstone.
5. Re-tap your personal independence
When we fall in love with someone we can feel compelled to spend all our time with them. Things are exciting and new, and exploring what life is like with them can absorb and overwhelm us. We lose ourselves in this type of new-relationship-obsession, however. Losing that personal identity is toxic to our partnerships, as it transforms the people we loved in the worst possible ways.
You’ll both be happier (and less prone to conflict) when you seek a bit more personal space and independence in your relationship. Stop defining your entire life by the bounds of your relationship. Break out of the same old routines and get back into the pastimes and social circles that once brought you joy or fulfillment.
Expecting your relationship to meet all your personal needs will lead to nothing but disappointment. This disappointment leads to resentment and escalated conflict. You need to come to the table as equal partners, charged and ready for work. This happens when we fulfill ourselves as fully rounded individuals, inside our relationships and outside of them too. Meet your own needs and stop relying on your partner for validation and fulfillment. Your relationship is a part of the equation — it’s not the end-all-be-all to your life.
Putting it all together…
Relationships can be challenging. Two different people are coming together to merge every aspect of their lives. Differences are bound to arise and disagreements as a result. The true test of our love is in how we choose to handle these disagreements. Small arguments don’t have to become major blowups. It’s all in how we approach one another and strive to prevent these escalations.
Spend some time processing how you feel before you approach your partner or engage in a confrontation. Conflict is unavoidable, but we have to approach it with understanding and compassion. Don’t allow your feelings to fester. Once you’re clear on how you feel and how you want to proceed, sit down with your spouse or loved one and have a candid conversation. Share how you feel calmly and with respect, then leave room for them to do the same. Drop your egos from the equation and strive to make talking an everyday part of your partnership. Building a life with someone else isn’t easy, but it can be done with honesty and compromise. Re-tap your sense of personal independence and minimize resentment by staying true to who you are as individuals. Arguments are unavoidable, but major conflict is. Stay focused on the big picture and approach one another with empathy.