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Overcoming Conflict in Relationships


How to overcome only thinking of “you” and being reactive in relationships

Photo by IB Wira Dyatmika on Unsplash

When we think about our relationship or the type of relationship we want to be in, we spend an awful lot of time on how we want to be treated, how we think our partner should speak to us, and how we want our partner to respond to our moods and our complaints. But in the midst of all this thinking we rarely stop to take a moment to think of how we are going to treat our partner. 

It was in the process of thinking about all the ways I didn’t like how my boyfriend was handling a situation when I realized I hadn’t taken a moment to take stock of how I was handling the situation. It occurred to me that while I expected him to deal with my bad moods, complaints and emotional baggage, I wasn’t doing the same for him. I realized in that moment that it is a wonder my boyfriend puts up with me when I always seem to call him out when he is the one struggling with something that is making him grouchy. Yet, he never calls me out. And while thinking about this, I realized that it isn’t just how I want to be treated that is important in a relationship it is also important how he should be treated. After all, relationships are between two people and both people deserve to be treated with respect, compassion, and love. 

Why “You” Thoughts Create Conflict

Not all “you” thoughts are bad. In the beginning of the relationship they are even necessary to make sure your dating the right person. But once you have decided to put all your effort into the success of the relationship with your partner, “you” thoughts that exclude your partner can be toxic. “You” centered thoughts create a division between you and your partner because you start to think of the two of you as separate entities instead of a partnership.

Yes, your needs and wants are important. But relationships are about compromise. They are about two people coming together and becoming a team, a “we”. The old adage, ‘There is no I in team,’ comes to mind here. It is important to make sure you aren’t changing your values for your partner, but it is all important to realize they have values too. If we don’t feel like we should have to change ourselves for our partner, why would we think it is fair to expect our partner to change? 

The key is to stop thinking about you in the relationship and think about the both of you together. How can the two of you learn to shift with one another? In a relationship, we can’t be stuck in one place. When two people come together and decide to enter into a committed relationship, they should move together and in response to one another. When one is having a hard time, the other should respond by being willing to give them space and remain calm and compassionate. But no matter how the two move in response to each other, the movement should always be responsive, not reactive. 

Be Responsive, Not Reactive

Image created by the author.

Imagine you and your partner are each standing on a line (as pictured above). The line represents the amount of effort each of you are putting into the relationship. Ideally, each partner will stand on 100, together, each one giving their all for the success of the relationship. However, for every obstacle, argument or discussion the two of you come upon, there will be movement on the line. Perhaps your partner just lost their job and as a result, they are grumpy and struggling with the future. They may step back and be standing at 20 on their side of the line. If you opt to remain on the 100, that space between the two of you is where conflict will arise and will leave your partner feeling alone.

The trick is to learn that sometimes your partner will need more from you than they are able to give at that moment. If they are on 20 and you aren’t willing to respond and bridge the gap between you, the metaphorical distance created can turn into actual distance within your relationship. If your partner is on 20 and you react negatively, unwilling to bridge the distance, a conflict is likely to ensue. When you react to the conflict, you will step back from 100 and more space will be created. That space is where doubt and the “you” thoughts will begin to fester. From these, further conflict will result as the two of you react to each other instead of responding.

To avoid the conflict, remember that whatever your partner is going through, the two of you can go through it together. This doesn’t mean if they are grumpy you should feel grumpy too. Rather that if one partner is grumpy, the other one will do their best to give their partner space while remaining supportive and compassionate. When the tables turn, and you are the one struggling to give your all in the relationship, a supportive partner will make up the difference. There will still be fights and conflict, that is natural in relationships, but the conflicts that arise from “you” thoughts can be avoided. 

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