For the large majority of couples conflict is par for the course. As Dr Russ Harris says, “There are two types of couples in this world: those who fight, and those who you don’t know very well”. Even the most well-adjusted and satisfied couples argue or experience tension in their relationship from time-to-time.
Although most of us find conflict unpleasant, it can be a useful and productive pathway to growth for a couple. If approached in a respectful, balanced way, conflict can create opportunities to share our thoughts, feelings and opinions and allows us to learn more about our partner. Conflict allows each person to express what is important to them.
Relationship conflict occurs for many reasons including:
- Differences in opinions, ideas or approaches
- Clashes in priorities and values
- Problems communicating
- Difficulties with trust
- Unconscious behaviours or feelings that create tension
- Bottling up how you really feel
- Outside influences such as work stress, family issues, or substance use
- Difficulty coping with strong emotions
- Unresolved issues from the past
Dr John Gottman, a leading research expert in romantic relationships, explains that during conflict sometimes one or both people can become “flooded”. Flooding occurs when the thinking part of the brain goes ‘off-line’ because we feel swamped by our emotions. If this happens, it is very difficult to deal with conflict in a healthy and helpful manner. Rather than being able to talk about how we feel, we tend to attack, withdraw, shut-down or freeze. Relationship counselling can help you to figure out your personal triggers for feeling flooded. Together with your counsellor, you and your partner can find effective ways to turn down the emotional intensity of your arguments and find a healthier path through conflict.