Before we look at what happens when couples experience conflict, lets look at what happens when they don't.
As in, one random morning someone wakes up and casually informs the other person that the relationship will be ending now, and could you please pass the salt?
Usually the split is pretty amicable, because there was no real investment in the growth of the relationship.
When there is real investment in the growth of the relationship, guess what else there is?
A little something called: MAJOR DISAPPOINTMENT SOMETIMES.
Disappointments arise when there's a discrepancy between expectation and outcome.
We all know that an excess of comparisons and expectations have the potential to sabotage our happiness, but unless you're a living superbeing, you’re gonna have to hold some expectations in a relationship just like the rest of us. And you’ll most likely be better off for doing so. Why?
Because most of the time, your expectations will be met-- though it's also true that sometimes they won’t be. If When the latter happens, conflict occurs.
Conflicts can be constructive or destructive.
When you fight dirty, it's literally destructive. You’re destroying trust, respect and confidence. When you fight in ways which are constructive, you're literally constructing.
You’re constructing and building deeper trust, upgrading confidence, and engendering real acceptance. Here's why --
1. FIGHTING RENEWS COURTSHIP
When disappointment and subsequent conflict occurs, apologies are often (i.e. pretty much always) in order. A solid apology typically engenders feelings of warmth and connection, because during the apology process, you reaffirm all the qualities you appreciate about your partner and are essentially apologizing for losing perspective of someone else's wonderfulness.
If the apology is really on point, you might also get a declaration from each person to be more aware of how their choices impact the other, which you weren't necessarily expecting. Sort of like being at a new restaurant on a semi-sketchy street on the lower east side, and then getting an amuse-bouche like, 'oooh, ok..now this suddenly feels legit.'
Of course, a great apology can also result in another certain aspect of reconciliation that no one in the history of time has ever complained about.
2. FIGHTING CONSTRUCTIVELY BOOSTS CONFIDENCE IN HANDLING STRESS TOGETHER
You know which ingredient corporate leadership and team building events look to infuse most into their activities? Stress. In fact, the best team building exercises will deliberately limit the resources of the team so that stress occurs. Not coincidentally, what occurs next is creative problem solving, effective strategy implementation and a concession to inter-dependence (i.e. some next level bonding).
Stressful events aren't exactly a rarity in this life, and experientially knowing that you're part of a two person team that has effectively learned to use each other's respective strengths, focus together, and expertly seek out the best possible outcome when stress comes a knockin' is like walking around with pocket aces. It's a special kind of assurance, and that assurance is built and won through many dealings with conflict.
3. FIGHTING PROVIDES AN OPPORTUNITY TO BE MORE DEEPLY KNOWN AND UNDERSTOOD
Assuming nothing egregious has occurred, usually fights happen when one person experiences what the other person sees as a disproportionate reaction to X.
If something has bothered you, there's an opportunity to explain why it bothered you. Fights typically trigger old wounds, and conflicts present an opportunity to share our unique histories and subsequent sensitivities.
Everyone has sensitivities because everyone has a past, but it's not like you sit around when you're happy and talk about stuff that makes you sad.
These hot-button issues more commonly arise during sensitive moments, moments of hurt, moments of disappointment.
Nestled within the hot-button issue is the chance to reveal yourself more fully and to allow your partner to do the same-- which is what intimacy is all about. Intimacy is about being fully seen by another. When you allow your partner to fully see you, and in turn bear witness to the full emotional landscape of your partner --- those gestures of mutual acceptance are the stuff of true love.
*This post does not apply to abusive relationships. Abusive relationships are crisis situations and need to be treated as such. For more resources and help on understanding what to do about abuse, please click here.