Updated: Jul 19
When we get past the wonderful “honeymoon stage” of the early part of intimate relationships, we start to get to really know each other. Now add in the amount of time you’ve been with your partner (let’s say many years), and different life stages and transitions you’ve experienced together (dating to marriage or having children for example), and sprinkle in a touch of conflicts and different styles of communication. Over time and experiences, we develop a relationship dynamic with our loved one. We know what it’s like to have great experiences together, but now we also know what it’s like to feel hurt, invalidated, and somewhat heartbroken by unmet needs and expectations.
Every relationship will experience their ups and downs. Whether we intentionally mean to or not, we know how to push our partner’s buttons and it’s easy to fall into the everyday cycle of arguing about insignificant things around the house that may have deeper meaning behind it. Here’s a common example that you may be familiar with. One partner forgets to put the dishes away due to stress at work. The other partner feels that they are making a bigger effort in keeping the house together (doing the task that the partner forgot about) and that the other isn’t trying. Both can’t communicate what they need and end up fighting over dishes versus addressing the real underlying issues. Whether you choose to engage in arguing, shutting down, or avoiding the conflicts, these issues continue to go unresolved until they are brought up again during another issue at home. While we love our partners and don’t want to be with anyone else, we don’t always like them very much. It is very common to go through a rough patch and feel like you are constantly at each other’s throats. So how do you weather the storm in your long-term relationship? Let’s explore ways to regain connection when you don’t really want to be around your partner.
Working Towards Resolving Conflicts
While some conflicts are large and difficult to navigate (big life changing ones), the focus of this topic will be around the day-to-day challenges that come up when living or being around your partner often. By the time couples decide to share issues, they often have been holding in some form of hurt or resentment from an experience or challenges sharing what they need or expect from their partner. Frustrations build and we are already triggered by the issue that pops up. Negative interactions get exchanged and the next thing you know you are fighting about something that happened months ago versus the problem in front of you. This is a common cycle that happens, but it doesn’t mean it has to stay this way. A great way to start working on this is to focus on "Relationship Conflict Resolution" (provided by Therapistaid.com):
- Focus on the problem, not the person: When wanting to resolve conflicts, it’s easy to get wrapped up in feeling hurt by our partner that we tend to lean into saying negative things about them in the heat of the moment. When you drift from the problem to the person, we are placing blame in the wrong place.
- Use Reflective Listening: One of the hardest skills is to repeat back what our partners are saying. We are often caught up in wanting to be heard that we forget there is another person involved in the conflict with us. A quick and easy way to do this is to practice repeating what our partners are saying back to them before we respond (and our partners can do the same for us. This way both can agree about what is being said even if partners don’t agree on the topic, we will feel heard (which makes us feel good, hence making communication more achievable!)
- Use “I” Statements: When working on sharing what is bothering us, we can fall into the blame game when using the word “You.” When you start sharing with your partner using “I,” you are sharing how the experience impacted you and how you feel (your emotions/feelings are important and valid!). This also helps make our partner feel less defensive (lets be real nobody likes the blame game), which helps continue conflict resolution.
- Know When to Take a Time Out: This is a very important part of conflict resolution. You and your partner are feeling overwhelmed by hurt feelings/emotions and cannot think clearly. We can all get caught up in our emotions and end up reacting in that emotion (think anger which can lead to yelling at our partner versus hearing our partner). This is a great time to take a break. Just don’t forget to come back to the conflict to resolve it.
- Work Toward a Resolution: While we may continue to disagree on the conflict, we can understand how our partners are feeling and work together towards a resolution. Disagreements and arguing are normal parts of any relationship. The overall goal is to focus on how to come together to find a solution that both partners can be happy with (compromises each partner can benefit from). Resolving conflict is hard because it forces us to communicate our needs and be vulnerable with our partners. While this will never be an easy task, the more you practice the easier it will be to continue resolving issues within the relationship.
A Few Last Words
Relationships are hard, especially when you’ve been with your partner for a long time and may be experiencing the dreaded lows that feel like a never-ending cycle of unnecessary arguments. Try out the steps above and see if they help. The more we communicate our needs and expectations the better our partners can support us the way we need (Remember: your partner is not a mind reader, if you don’t share, they won’t know).
Additional Helpful Tools: