Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Myth 6: “If We Fight or Experience Conflict, the Relationship is Doomed/Over”

I used to do pre-marital therapy and I was always most concerned about the couples who came in saying that they had never had a fight. They were proud of this, as if it meant that they were the most perfect and meant-for-each-other couple I had ever worked with. Now some people are chronic avoiders who never feel the need to bring up conflict. This works fine if both people in the relationship are avoiders and they are both happy with a relationship that’s not very emotionally intimate. Most people want more than that, especially ones who decide to get counseling before they get married.

Let me say right now that the couples who had already weathered some fights were much more prepared to get and stay married.

We come to fear conflict as children. Especially if you have older brothers who tried to smother you under your parents’ bedspread when you disagreed with them. Many smart kids grow up in homes where being right is exalted and ever being wrong is not acceptable. So those who might be “wrong,” or have been “wronged,” do not bring it up. It makes it hard to get any experience dealing with conflict when the tacit message at home is that having conflict is bad.

This fear of conflict manifests itself in anxiety about, and the avoidance of, addressing something that your girlfriend (or potential girlfriend) did that bothers you, pisses you off or hurt you. It can manifest itself in apologizing too quickly when she brings up a touchy subject in order to end the conversation, thus preventing any real understanding on your part of the reasons for her complaint and any real understanding on her part for why you did what you did.

The advice. Take baby steps toward becoming more comfortable with handling conflict. Practice “confrontation” with those who don’t matter as much to you as a girlfriend. Tell the cashier when he shorts you by a dime. Let your boss know when she wrongly credits that lazy guy in the next cubicle for your work.

Up next: Myth Seven, “The woman should be the one to initiate any touching”


  1. I find it's a LOT easier to deal with issues the moment they happen rather than too far after the fact. If I let something go, or let a friend get away with treating me poorly, it becomes harder and harder to bring it up later.

    On the other hand, it's just the slightest bit difficult to bring up grievances as soon as they happen and I ALWAYS feel better about it afterward.

  2. I think one of the reasons people avoid bringing it up in the moment is that they think they are too emotional to talk about it without saying something stupid. The problem is that sometimes when you wait until you calm down, then you rationalize to yourself why you shouldn't bring it up at all. Sometimes we need that "irrational" emotion in the moment to force usto address the issue. And, if you say something stupid, you can always apologize. We don't have to get things right the first time.

  3. Totally agreed. The worst thing is when they do something that makes you really angry and you don't bring it up so it gets filed away as something to throw at them later. Of course, if you brought it up as soon as it happened you'd realize they had no intention of pissing you off and it was simple miscommunication.