Couple conflict is normal. It doesn’t feel good, and it can get messy, but it is a normal part of every long-term loving relationship. Every relationship has its own unique dynamic.
The background of each person, including family of origin experiences and many other factors, shape the character of the couple as a unit.
Even though couples have their own situations which are highly individualized, there are common sources of conflict that many couples experience.
- Power distribution in the relationship
- Household chores and responsibilities
- Unequal sacrifices
- Outside influence of others on the relationship (family, friends, infidelity)
- Poor communication
- Substance use
- Differing value systems
Relationships that are laden with conflict (more conflictual times than non-conflictual times) are in a category of their own. While conflict is normal and to be expected in any relationship, if it is the prime dynamic between two people, it may signify some deeper disconnection that should be explored.
As you explore sources of conflict and tension in your relationship, consider the following red flags that may signify larger or more pervasive problems.
Feeling disrespected by your partner:
In a healthy relationship, there can be conflict without disrespectful behavior. If you feel that your partner treats you disrespectfully (belittles you, name calling, controlling or manipulative behaviors) this is a type of emotional abuse and rises above normal conflict.
You feel fearful during or after conflict:
If you experience fear as a result of conflict, be sure to explore the source of the fear. Is the fear related to safety? If so, that is a huge red flag that this is an unhealthy relationship.
Couples need to be able to trust one another’s reactions. When one person fears the actions of the other person, that suggests an ingrained uncertainty about the other person’s internal limits.
If you are worried about your partner doing something to harm you or harm themselves as a result of a conflict, the stakes are high and you need to seek professional help. Crisis hotlines are available twenty four hours a day, as well as local law enforcement and emergency services. If you are unsure about whether or not to call, call anyway.
A well-intentioned misplaced call is better than a call that isn’t made when it should have been. Professionals on the other end of the phone can guide you to the appropriate resources if you need a different resource than what the hotline offers. If you are feeling fearful for your own safety or someone else’s safety due to conflict, it is imperative that you reach out for assistance.
Conflict is a natural part of any relationship. Even the most compatible couples experience challenges. If we play our cards right, these normal conflicts can actually help strengthen our relationships.
Both people in the relationship can use what they learn from the conflict to build connection, and this requires openness, honesty and a lot of vulnerability. Determining the nature of your conflict and whether it rises to a level of being unhealthy is an important distinction that will help guide your next steps.