I’ve learned that couples enjoy sizing their relationships next to others, and a common comparison is who has the most conflict. Obviously, you are not in a healthy relationship if fighting is constant, and your only way of speaking to each other is screaming. Fighting like that shows an inability to communicate, and if that is the case there is a problem in your relationship. But just because one couple has more conflict than another couple, does not make their relationship less healthy. It is impossible to be in a relationship with another person without conflict. In a friendship, marriage, or any relationship, two individuals are coming together having grown up with different families, different experiences, and different likes and dislikes. As these individuals begin to interact intimately with one another, they soon realize the differences in each other’s thoughts, opinions, and beliefs and conflict arises. Somehow though, so many of us believe that if conflict is present it shows an incompatibility in our relationship.
When my husband and I first started dating, there wasn’t much conflict, if any at all. We hardly ever fought, and we rarely disagreed with one another. I would not make the mistake though, in believing that our lack of conflict meant our relationship was happier and healthier then than it is now. In our case, the lack of conflict stemmed from our inability to be open and vulnerable with one another. I was nervous to really speak my mind or outwardly disagree with my then boyfriend; not because he was controlling or aggressive, but because I thought that if we had conflict in our relationship it meant we weren’t meant to be together. If our relationship was built to last, then conflict should not exist. I now know I could not have been more wrong, so why did I view conflict so negatively?
Growing up, when I heard the word conflict it was always accompanied with war, battle, fights, and struggle. Whenever we spoke about war and the Middle East, it was always referred to as the “Conflict in the Middle East.” So conflict had this negative connotation in my mind. The reversal of this was also true. Because conflict was connected to violent words and events, I thought that an absence of conflict equated peace. In my mind if there was a lack of conflict, that meant there would also be a lack of fights and struggle. So, if there was conflict in my relationship, that meant we had a violent and aggressive relationship; but if we did not have conflict, then we had a peaceful relationship.
It wasn’t until my senior year in college that I began to form my own understanding of the word conflict. I was taking a class with one of my favorite professors. He started class one day by saying that an absence of conflict does not equate to peace. Instantly, my mind was troubled because that was not what I’ve been taught. He then began telling a story of a family whose father ran a tight ship. The children were always quiet, the house was always clean, and everyone in the home made sure to do what the father said. The father was a strong, aggressive, demanding person. No one would dare speak out against him or challenge him. So, if there was an absence of conflict because there were no disagreements, no arguments, no fights, does that mean their home was full of peace?
I soon realized that conflict was not this violent and negative word that I always deemed it to be. Conflict for me became a representation of a truly intimate relationship; a relationship where trust, openness, and vulnerability exists. There is no fear of judgment, because the two individuals have reached a point in their relationship where differences are acknowledged and embraced.
After that class I accepted that for me to be in a relationship, whether it was with a friend, a family member, or a significant other, I had to let go of my fear of conflict. This fear was crippling me from truly experiencing relationships with others. In my dating relationship with my husband, this fear was causing me to miss out on fully knowing him, and it was keeping him from fully knowing me.
Our love may not be perfect. Through the course of our relationship, we have made each other angry, we’ve made each other cry, we have raised our voices to one another, and we’ve given each other the silent treatment. There have been times that we have gone to bed angry, and there have been times that we were not slow to speak and quick to listen. Our marriage is not in danger though, just because our love is not that of fairy tales. The conflict in our relationship is simply a reminder that we are continuing this journey of getting to fully know one another.