We all know that authentic relationships, and long-term bliss are difficult to achieve. Psychologist Marc Feitelberg says the closer you get to someone, the greater the possibility of conflict and issues – so conflict in relationships is natural and healthy.
Disagreements are part of being a thinking person. It's how we deal with conflict that's a key issue. "We are not taught relationship conflict resolution skills when growing up," says Marc, "so we need to learn them."
Relationships are good for your health
Research shows that married people live longer. A happy union confers physical, as well as emotional, health benefits.
People in a good relationship are more successful at work, and when you're happy at work, that's likely to reduce psychological strain and lower the levels of stress hormones that can impair the immune system.
In contrast, divorced and separated people, and people who're unemployed or work in conflict-rich environments, are more prone to depression, more liable to commit suicide and more likely to develop cancer and heart disease.
On the other hand, staying trapped in a twilight zone of an angry relationship can be equally harmful to health.
Fight right – and you both win
High blood pressure aside, disagreements themselves don't endanger relationships. Withholding your feelings results in unhappiness, Marc points out, which is why it's important (though sometimes risky) to reveal yourself.
Successful couples fight just as often and over the same issues as those who break up, but in their arguments, partners find win-win solutions. They've learnt to put all their issues on the table and negotiate for what they want. In other words, they've learnt to fight better. Always ask yourself: 'Do you want to be right? Or do you want to win?' suggests Marc. The goal, really, is to set the record straight. Try this:
Take turns to speak and listen (yes, of course it's obvious, but a lot of us don't do that. It takes discipline). When you're listening, you may not interrupt and you may not attempt to solve the problem. You should get the same courtesy when you're speaking. After hearing your partner out, paraphrase what you've heard, which lets them correct any misunderstandings.
The goal is not to use the other person's speaking time to prepare your comeback but to listen in a way that lets you understand your partner's position.
Don't avoid conflict
We all bring baggage from our past into current relationships, Marc says – and relationships present an opportunity for us to learn more about our baggage, and to grow. Part of that is about the conflict that arises within relationships.
Avoidance of conflict is a major predictor of divorce and other break-ups of every kind. Think about it: if you're not dealing with your baggage, you cannot move on. Efforts to sidestep confrontations can be expressed as disengagement, withdrawal or giving each other the silent treatment.
Early in love relationships, couples avoid conflict because they believe that being in love means they should agree on everything. Later, it's because their fights get out of hand and become so upsetting that both partners simply shut down. People also avoid conflict because they're not sure of their ground when it comes to the security of the relationship.
Know that... Disagreements are a part of every relationship. Most partners have about 10 areas of disagreement, and most will fight about the same things (with your man, that usually means money, housework, time, sex, priorities and, when it comes to that, children).
Some differences will be irreconcilable. This isn't a problem: spending your working life – or the rest of your life – with an emotional clone would be boring. Don't ignore irreconcilable differences, but do wall them off from the rest of your relationship.
Arguments will happen. An angry fight followed by a discussion is constructive; kissing and making up without discussion is not. It takes strength to look at the injuries you've inflicted on each other and hang up the boxing gloves, but the same anger that is making connection difficult is wreaking havoc within your body. If you can find the courage to rescue what you have together, you may be saving yourself along with your peace.
It's time to move on when... You're in a committed relationship that feels like more of a commitment on your side than on his. Especially if there's repeat cheating involved – and cheating is more than sexual infidelity. It's also lying, selfish behaviour (e.g. he leaves you hanging on Saturday night in case something better comes up).
If he's abusive, mentally or physically. We know that's often when it's hardest to give up – there's something perverse in women which makes us want to persist and resolve that, but it never works. Let it go.
Above all, remember that in life there are no guarantees, says Marc, so give it all you've got when it comes to love. But don't give it more than you should. There are some circumstances under which you should cut your losses and run. It's difficult to give guidelines, since circumstances have many nuances, but there are always signs that just tell you it's time to end it.
Do you have any tips and strategies that work for you? Share your story in the comment box below...