Maintaining a lifelong relationship is often difficult, even under the best of circumstances. As a society, many people turn away from the obstacles that come up in relationships rather than learning to deal with them—one of the biggest challenges being conflict. While conflict is inevitable, it’s how you handle it that will make or break your relationship. It’s no secret that communication is the cornerstone of any successful relationship—being able to express your wants and needs in a healthy way separates summer flings from relationships that endure all seasons. To put it simply, a couple that can learn how to fight together, stays together.
While conflict can be the driving force behind breakups and divorce, it also has the potential to bring you closer together and strengthen your relationship. In The Love Fix: Repair and Restore Your Relationship Right Now, licensed marriage and family therapist Dr Tara Fields discusses the five common conflicts that couples experience and the ways to stop rehashing the same arguments.
So how do we break the negative patterns in our relationships? By figuring out what it is that you’re really fighting about, once you determine the root of the problem, you can move together toward resolving. Fields cleverly paves the way in this step-by-step guide to building and strengthening relationships filled with love, support and understanding. Here is an excerpt from the book on learning to move past conflict:
Part of my job as a psychotherapist is to see couples with fresh eyes—and to remind them that no matter how bad things have gotten, they can get better. How do I know? Because there’s a simple truth about all relationships that most of us miss: It’s not the fighting or the resentment or the icy indifference or the fact that “he never listens.” In other words, it’s not what you’re fighting about that matters. It’s the patterns you fall into when you fight that can tear a relationship apart. Clients come in and say, “Tara, I don’t get it. I have never loved anyone like this, and I have never had conflict like this. Am I with the wrong person? Should we just quit? Am I crazy? Did I make a mistake?”
No! If you’re feeling this way, you’re not crazy, and it doesn’t mean you have made the wrong choice in a partner. Most often it means you made a good choice. There’s a line I love from the book A Course in Miracles, published by the Foundation for Inner Peace: “Love brings up every- thing unlike itself . . . to be healed.” Love brings up everything you have kept hidden away: unresolved wounds and traumas, fears. Perhaps you feel safe enough, vulnerable enough, in love to allow these old feelings and experiences to resurface. Letting love take the lid off Pandora’s box frees those demons—and once they are free, they can be healed.
Here’s what happens: you get a ring or move in together or you join hearts—you become part of someone else’s world, and that person becomes part of yours—and
then the conflict starts. Maybe it was there all along, and you thought this next step of commitment would make it all go away. Whatever the case, when the conflict starts or grows, you make the mistake of thinking it must be because you’re with the wrong person. You say, “Hey, if I was with the right person, we wouldn’t be fighting, right?”
But the important truth is that it’s never all hearts and flowers. In fact, when you find the person you love and this person loves you back, that love will permeate the layers of protection you’ve built to keep yourself safe; it will get down to so many things you’ve never dealt with before. It may be exactly because you found the right person that you’re fighting—now your heart is open; you’re here in the moment, sitting with yourself in a way you never have before; and now you have the chance through this relationship to let these unresolved issues and fears bubble up from your past so that you can heal them in an authentic way. You have an opportunity: if you can reframe your relationship with conflict, not only can you find your way back to the passion and wide-eyed wonder you once felt in your relationship, but you can also use the safety of a relation- ship in which you reach out and your partner reaches back to learn more about yourself. Can you reframe this conflict as an opportunity not only to repair and strengthen the relationship with your beloved but also to heal your own wounds?
I have seen couples find peace, come closer together, save their relationships, and build relationships that last by simply understanding how they handle their problems and making some pretty straightforward changes to how they communicate. You would be surprised how many more relationships would work, how many more families would stay together, and how many more people would be happy and fulfilled in their relationships if they could take a step back from their conflicts. If you’re fighting or locked in conflict right now, right as you read these words, you have one of the greatest opportunities of your life to connect deeply with your partner and with yourself. My hope is that this book—which explains and explores the five most common fighting patterns couples fall into, offers insight from couples who have broken out of those conflict loops, and provides the tools to help build a lasting relationship—will be a guide for you and give you the courage to reach for the beautiful relationship that is within your power to create.
From the book The Love Fix by Tara Fields, PhD. Reprinted with permission from Harper Collins. All rights reserved.