To celebrate the launch of our brand-new OM-Wellness Relationships Retreat, Bintan, 15-17 September 2023, a 2-day holistic process to take your relationships to a new level whether you are single or attached), I am going to focus the next few articles on some of the core ingredients to healthy, adult, intimate relationships.
Contrary to popular belief, healthy relationships require conflict.
I often see couples who share with great pride, “we never fight!” Often this is meant literally, and the couple is referring to their ability to deal with challenging topics, without escalating them into arguments. Sometimes, however, the couple means that they never have any type of tension in the relationship, never!
When I realise the couple is referring to the second scenario, I can already list one of our core areas of work in my notes, “develop skills for healthy conflict”.
Sadly, the word ‘conflict’ comes laden with negative connotations. When thinking of conflict, images of loud volumes, exaggerated body gestures or worse are conjured in the mind of most people.
It is important, however, that we expand our understanding of this concept and include within it the idea that conflict is also natural, ‘being in opposition’ or ‘coming into disagreement’ about the natural differences we encounter in everyday life.
Regardless of the age at which we meet our partners, we arrive at this first encounter with a bag full of life experiences, personality traits, social, cultural and familial conditions deeply rooted within our being… and so does our partner.
In the luckiest of cases, the two people meet and match in a way where most of partner A’s needs are naturally catered for by what partner B offers, and vice versa.
In most cases, however, and in the later stages of relationship development of every couple, the differences we bring to the relationship are likely to create some friction… sometimes, a lot of friction.
While it is pleasant to imagine a fable-like relationship where everything smoothly fits together, requiring no effort on the part of either partner to create a robust, intimate connection, the reality for most is that these differences must be addressed, negotiated and solved. The larger the difference, the greater the likelihood it will create friction, the greater the need to address it as soon as it emerges.
Assuming that our values and visions are broadly aligned with those of our partners, most differences can be resolved. There are of course situations when circumstances have changed enough for priorities to shift or a difference so big emerges that the couple agrees to part ways. However, in most situations, the differences can be addressed.
To be intimate is to be vulnerable, and to be vulnerable is to be open and visible enough to to risk being wounded. When we open ourselves up to address the differences that naturally emerge in any relationship, we are opening ourselves up deep and fulfilling intimacy.
Here are a few suggestions on how to keep conflict skilful:
1. Address the differences when they first become noticeable
2. Focus on the events a lot more than the person
3. Shift your talk from “you” to “I”
“NIP IT IN THE BUD”
When we compromise on our own wellbeing, we involuntarily create resentment, anger, sadness and a range of negative energies that can fester. This usually leads to the original discomfort growing big enough to later require a lot more energy to address and resolve.
Face up to your differences early on, this will help you build a really strong and solid foundation.
CAN A CAMERA RECORD IT?
I often hear couples argue about something that happened and caused them pain, but often they can’t understand each other because the way things are being described is so subjective that it is nearly impossible for the other to understand.
And so, I tell them, “imagine there was a camera there at that moment, it was recording video and audio, and now we are all watching the recording on the monitor for the first time. Can you please describe what we see and hear on the monitor?”
Once the ‘facts & figures’ of the situation have been addressed and acknowledged, there is usually more space for the subjective interpretations, needs and emotions to emerge and be heard.
BEWARE OF THE BLAME FORMULAS
It is easy to look at our partners and blame them for our hurt, after all, “if she didn’t do that, I would not be hurting right now”.
See if you can see the difference between these two sentences.
“If you loved and respected me, you would not have treated me like that in front of our friends.”
“When you shouted at me in front of our friends, I really felt hurt and disrespected.”
Both sentences include the word ‘you’, but notice how the second sentence focuses on describing what “the camera recorded”, unlike the first sentence, where ‘you’ is attached to a judgment.
When we use more ‘I’ sentences, we give ourselves the opportunity to be heard and seen.
So remember, conflict may have a bad name, but we need healthy conflict in order to build the strong and solid foundations a healthy, adult, intimate relationship requires, as well as to deal with the challenges that life invariably sends our way.
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I base all my articles on real case studies and research findings that are relevant to my work and my clients.
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