Why Do We Experience Conflict?


If we’re on our second marriage, and it’s working well, and we’ve figured out some stuff and grown wiser, and we’re living a rich experience, we’re not likely to look back and wish that we’d made it work with our first partner. But we are likely to look back and wish that we’d been wise and compassionate enough to know how to make it work with our first partner.

The reason for conflict. 

Most of us begin life joyfully, and everything we do feels wonderful, until our adults begin to rein us in. And when their approval becomes dependent on whether we’re “being good,” we learn to suppress our unlovable aspects.

Eventually, we grow up and find romance. And right away, we feel smarter, funnier, sexier. And it feels like the original joyfulness we felt when we were small.

Over time though, our partners begin to act differently, and we start to resent qualities in them that we used to adore. They don’t give us what we need to feel whole again, so we blame them. Old hurts are reactivated, and our disillusionment turns to anger. Power struggles take hold, and neither of us is willing to end them.

Here’s the good news though. Conflict is natural and a normal part of life. It’s proof that our relationships are on the right track, because conflict is meant to help us heal our issues, which means that switching partners isn’t necessarily the best answer.

The role of anger.

One of my friends married a man because he proposed. The relationship was troubled from the wedding night and spiraled down from there. The two of them went years without connection, affection or intimacy. And she stayed for the health insurance.

She blamed her frustration and anger on him. And for years, she thought her feelings of unworthiness were a result of the marriage.

I was sitting with her one day, listening to her talk about it, when she had a kind of epiphany. She realized that the opposite was true, that the state of the marriage was a result of her feelings of unworthiness. Feelings that she’d been carrying around since childhood, when her grandmother convinced her that “boys are valuable, but girls are not.”

This was huge, and we both felt the potential. But what would she do with it? First, she decided to stop settling, which required new beliefs – that she was deserving and that she was capable of providing for herself, including being able to pay for insurance.

Then she decided to change her focus from escaping from a messy marriage to moving toward a joyful future, which required stopping blame, criticism and condemnation. Then she was finally able to let her husband off the hook, which opened the door for them to build a healthy marriage.

Our anger points to a need that we’re making someone else responsible for filling. If we stuff anger down, instead of examining it to see what the message is, it will keep showing up and grow more destructive.

Making our partners responsible for taking care of our needs doesn’t work. And if we choose anger to manipulate them into doing what we want, missiles will fly, and no one’s needs will be met.

My friend and her husband are still working stuff out. But she finally shined a spotlight on a dark corner inside herself. And because she did it, sometimes he feels brave enough to do the same. And together, they’re moving forward.

We all deserve to live in peaceful households, where conflict is faced and resolved as soon as it comes up. And we’re all capable of making that happen.

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Author, Blogger, Contributor to Thrive Global, The Good Men Project and HuffPost