Why Conflict Is the Key to Intimacy

We all want to avoid it, but when we do, we miss out on the perfect opportunity to get closer to our partner.


by Erik Newton

filed under Fighting, Science of Love

At a wedding I recently attended, someone asked how I could stomach all the exposure to fights during my time as a divorce lawyer. I must admit that it took me some time to learn this perspective, but it has guided me every since.  

Ask anyone who is married, and they will tell that no matter how healthy your marriage, you’re going to disagree at times. Sometimes the disagreements will be easy to handle, and sometimes they’ll make you wonder how you ever married. Either way, conflict is going to exist for the rest of your marriage, and when it arises you essentially have three options: break up, ignore it, or use the conflict to deepen your relationship.

I advise against number one—it’s too expensive (trust me). Number two usually just leads back to number one, so that’s a dud. Which leaves number three—deepening your relationship is far easier said than done, but it is quite possibly the main reason you got married in the first place.

So how do you deepen your relationship through conflict? You use the conflict as an opportunity to better understand your spouse.  This requires a fundamental shift from what most people do during conflict, which is attempt to change the other person’s mind. The Jedi trick in conflict is to stop convincing and start understanding.   

There are dozens of ways to do this. The famous couple’s therapist Ellyn Bader talks about being “curious, not furious” as the primary perspective to take in conflict. Mediators like Gary J. Friedman have been successfully practicing mirroring techniques for decades in which both parties explain one another’s perspective back and forth until they reach resolution. Role playing is also effective: Many couples will actually argue one another’s side in an argument, which has the added benefit of injecting a bit of humor into a tense situation.

Regardless of how you do it, the key is to get inside your partner’s head and heart. Once there, you can look back at yourself, usually with a fresh (and expanded) perspective. Would it really be that difficult to accommodate your partner’s need, the one that sounded so silly at first, the one that seemed to be “causing” the conflict in the first place? Might doing so even help you grow?

This is the reason you married, because you wanted to better understand this person that you have committed to spend your life with. Luckily, doing so means you’ll also gain a better understanding of yourself.

Erik Newton is the founder of Together.

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