Make Your Connection More Important Than Your Conflict
Age old advice dictates that partners never go to bed angry with each other. What disconnects couples is not always easily resolved before bedtime. Time, space and reflection are often required to process through one’s inner experience prior to re-engagement. The commitment to re-engage and preserve the connection above all else is one that will, indeed, be honored if “yes” is the answer to a very important question – Is this person and this relationship worth it?
Relationship conflict is inevitable as two people with different life experiences, wants, desires, expectations, ways of functioning, etc. seek to co-exist. Not an easy task but is conflict the reason we seek relationships? I think not…at least on a conscious level. I think most would agree that we seek relationships to fulfill needs for intimacy, connection and companionship.
Harville Hendrix offers a window into the unconscious forces at work with regards to attraction and relationship dynamics. Think of your past and present relationships. Do you find that your partners have many of the negative traits of your parents or primary caretakers? When you think about how you really want them to function, is that more reflective of the positive traits and characteristics of your parents?
Given that our first and most significant attachment experiences (i.e. experiences of connection and intimacy) are to our primary caretakers, a dynamic is established that resurfaces in the romantic relationship context. In a recent post Humanizing Parents, Deifying God, I spoke about the imperfections and limitations of our parents. As a result, needs for affirmation, validation, safety, presence, love, understanding, patience, etc. are often inadequately met or unmet in some instances.
Through our partners, we seek the fulfillment of needs unmet by parents. Therein, lies the seat of much conflict because our partners are equally imperfect. Moreover, they are our partners, not our parents which implies a very different relationship. Hendrix also addresses how our own response patterns to negative situations sabotage need gratification.
Many have a surface level understanding of themselves and their relationships leaving them consciously confused and unconsciously controlled. Much of the conflict that occurs in relationships is rooted beneath the surface and often a function of what is unresolved from the past.
Allies Not Adversaries
Hendrix and others in the field of couple’s therapy offer the opportunity for couples to function as allies, not adversaries when dealing with these unresolved gremlins of the past. Don’t we all have enough enemies to contend with in life, human or circumstantial? Isn’t support one the reasons we partner with another human being on this challenging journey through life?
Just as our parents inevitably wound us, so will our partners. It is important to remain mindful that the wounding we experience is usually unintentional. If intentioned, leave immediately. How often do you wake up in the morning planning a strategy to inflict pain on your partner? Chances are you do not and neither does your partner, but somehow it happens and conflict is often the result. When both parties are committed to the connection, not the conflict, these matters can be discussed easily and amends made because neither wants negative energy to be a divisive force in the relationship.
Whether conflict has origins in the past, does not negate a couple’s experience of discord about present matters. It will be difficult to make your connection more important than your conflict without adequate conflict resolution skills – communication, emotional regulation, impulse control, problem-solving, empathy and compassion to name a few.
We seek relationships for connection not conflict. Though conflict is inevitable and disconnects us, paradoxically, it can be a source of healing and growth for each individual, as well as a path to greater intimacy in the relationship.
Adopting the single principle of making your connection more important than your conflict ensures that all aspects of relationship life, even the challenges, serve to strengthen a couple’s bond, minimize the negative effects of conflict and protect the container of the relationship from toxic energies that often result in partners seeking refuge elsewhere.