Every relationship has conflict and stress, but how you handle them can determine the outcome and effect. What do you do with your negative feelings? Do you bottle them up or lash out without much thought? Many of the couples I work with struggle to find constructive and healthy ways to work through their conflicts. Unfortunately, conflict doesn’t go away on its own over time, but instead it tends to accumulate and allows feelings to fester when it’s not addressed. Over the years I’ve identified a pattern of behaviors that many couples experience when confronted with conflict.
The couples first experience frustration which is normal and this frustration often leads to anger. Although all couples experience some anger in their relationship, not all couples know how to constructively express and resolve anger. If the anger is not expressed, it lingers and then can turn into resentment. Resentment is anger with a history. As time progresses and unresolved resentment grows, detachment begins to occur. Couples will disengage and detach from each other when they have been unable or unwilling to work through their conflicts. The final phase of this vicious cycle is self-destructive behaviors either by one or both parties. People self-destruct in many different ways including infidelity, viewing pornography, misusing alcohol/drugs, overeating, overspending, and gambling. Some ways of self-destruction can have the appearance of being positive like work, volunteering, and/or exercise. But the intention behind the behaviors is to avoid the conflict, detach from the person, and give up on the relationship.
Are there any other options? Of course there are many other choices that one can make, but they first require an acknowledgment of responsibility for the problem and awareness of areas to change. Working through conflict and negative emotions requires an acceptance of each other’s perspective and feelings even when you don’t agree. If you communicate with respect and kindness then the other person is more likely to listen without defensiveness or blame. Sometimes getting the conflict off your chest is all that was needed to let it go, while other times an apology is in order. The key to dealing with marital distress is taking action sooner rather than later. Be sure to have the conversations when all distractions are eliminated and you can give each other your undivided attention. Conflicts can either pull you apart or deepen your relationship. Believe it or not there is such a thing as conflict intimacy which occurs when you successfully confront, manage, and even resolve conflict. Don’t let unresolved conflict destroy your marriage; take action today.