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Relationships: Is Our Conflict Healthy?

Hannah Hopper, LPC, NCC

Having conflicts is a normal part of being in a relationship. Healthy conflict with your partner can lead to better communication and a stronger relationship as both parties are able to talk about what’s important to them. But having healthy conflict is difficult, and most of us engage in behaviors that can be damaging to our relationship. Below are some ways to learn more about the kind of conflict you’re engaging in. 

Healthy conflict stays in the present 

Couples who fight well will stick to the current conflict they’re working through without dredging up the past. Revisiting old conflicts also keeps you from rebuilding trust since it can feel like your partner is hanging on to what you’ve done to hurt them in previous conflicts. If the past is continually brought up during conflicts, it may be a sign that your partner hasn’t fully forgiven you. Notice if there seems to be a pattern in your fights, and keep the conflict focused on the current issue. Holding on to past hurts will build resentment and bitter feelings in the relationship that can be tough to move on from. 

Healthy conflict is when both people are seen as equals 

These fights are more objective and avoid personal attacks. If the conflict were about timeliness and one person who is consistently late, the healthy conflict would focus on whether or not it’s important to be timely to events. If the conflict takes a turn towards personal attacks, the content would shift to being about one person being more mature or responsible in managing their schedule and showing up on time. Another power shift would be implying that the late partner should be grateful the on time partner still stays with them when they make mistakes like this. Healthy conflict avoids degrading one partner and sees both people in the relationship as equals that have something valuable to offer. 

Healthy conflict addresses the issue

If a conflict becomes heated and both people are feeling hurt, it’s tempting to stop trying to resolve the conflict in the moment and sweep the issues under the rug. This feels better in the short term, but if a conflict isn’t resolved then chances are that it’ll come up again. Couples who do conflict well will come back to the main issue to repair hurt feelings. Even if that means taking time apart to cool down and calm emotions, the key is coming back together to resolve and repair the damage in the relationship. 

Healthy conflict leads to feeling better 

Healthy conflict rebuilds trust and can lead to a deeper sense of connection and transparency with your partner. Your conflicts are productive when the hurt is repaired and you’re able to move on from the conflict and back to enjoying the good parts of your relationship. 

Note: If conflict with your partner involves physical elements such as grabbing you or hitting you, this isn’t healthy conflict. Other things to look out for include being psychologically or emotionally manipulated. These types of relationships are really hard to get out of, so be kind to yourself if it’s been hard for you to walk away. If you are in a relationship like this, know that you’re not alone and you can find support. This hotline is a great place to start.

Relationships can be challenging, especially if you’re having major conflicts that are difficult to recover from. If you’d like support with working through the conflicts in your relationship and improving communication with your partner, you may find it helpful to talk with one of our therapists at Symmetry Counseling. You can contact Symmetry today by calling 312-578-9990 to get matched with one of our therapists.

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