Marital and relationship conflicts are a natural part of any committed relationship.
But are conflicts a sign your marriage or relationship is in trouble?
Not necessarily. As a wife married over forty years recently shared during a couples communication workshop, “A healthy argument makes for a healthy relationship!” We need to make a distinction between a “healthy argument” and an “unhealthy argument” since not all conflicts are alike and not all are good for your relationship.
The good news is that there are signs that can help you and your spouse/partner figure out if conflict is benefiting your relationship or hurting it.
Let’s look at what distinguishes a healthy conflict from an unhealthy one.
Relationship Help: Characteristics of a healthy conflict/argument
A healthy conflict:
1. Clears the air and brings important issues out into the open;
2. Gives direction to any changes that may be needed;
3. Informs you about what is important to your spouse/partner;
4. Informs you about what isn’t working for your spouse/partner;
5. Doesn’t deteriorate into name-calling and hostilities, even when emotions run high.
Characteristics of an unhealthy conflict/argument
An unhealthy conflict:
1. Causes a break down in communication (no one is listening with the goal of trying to understand the other);
2. Doesn’t lead to any awareness or insight into each other’s needs or perspectives;
3. Are repetitive, and at times may consist of hostile verbal attacks with the aim of hurting the other;
4. Causes emotional wounding and defensiveness (and little else);
5. At best, maintains the status quo of the relationship and prevents growth.
For many of us the reality is that we will have both healthy and unhealthy arguments during the life of our relationship—so don’t panic if you see yourself or your relationship while reading the unhealthy conflict list.
To help you determine if an argument is healthy (useful to the growth of the relationship), you and your spouse/partner can engage in a post-conflict analysis. You’ll need to let time pass to allow the embers of heated emotions cool before this analysis occurs. The goal of this discussion is mutual understanding and growth. If it feels like you or your partner are starting to escalate, simply put this discussion on hold until you both feel more grounded emotionally.
Any post-conflict analysis should start with a recognition that you love and care about each other. Never minimize your positive feelings toward each other. Then ask yourself the following:
- What was accomplished by this most recent argument?
- What did I learn about myself as a result of this conflict?
- What did I learn about my spouse/partner?
- How can I use this information to strengthen our marriage/relationship and deepen our relationship foundation?
Take your time with answering these questions and make sure that you’re not holding onto a blame-the-other mindset for the conflict that exists; you need to be open to learning about yourself (and your shortcomings) while answering these questions. The payoff will be greater self-awareness and a stronger, more rewarding relationship.
Couples Communication Resources
Effective communication remains one of the most powerful ways for couples to resolve and grow from relationship conflict and meet each other’s needs. I’ve created a comprehensive communication resource for couples (click the link below for more information):
Wishing you and your partner abundant loving-kindness!
Dr. Rich Nicastro