The other day when I was chatting with a dear friend on the essence of true friendship, I shared, “I think a true friendship shows when a friend can support me at my lowest.”
She paused, smiled, and I sensed that she had a different perspective. Curious, I inquired, and her answer has remained with me ever since.
“I think a true friendship thrives in conflicts…A friend that still loves and embraces me after we argue with each other.”
That deeply touched me.
And it still does, because it reminded me of my tendency to avoid conflicts in all my relationships, especially the ones I care for most due to the fear of losing them. Yet, I have also come to realize, how much I yearn to be accepted even after I honestly and openly express myself. I yearn for the reassurance that someone who may disagree with me will still hug me afterward.
Differences are threats and red flags.
Differences are normal and unavoidable.
Conflicts are unamendable catalysts for destruction.
Conflicts are opportunities for growth and connection (Kara, S. 2023). If we let them be.
In fact, if part of being human means we all are unique and beautiful in our own ways, then how can we not appreciate the differences we possess from each other?
Particularly, when we are in a romantic relationship.
Certainly, it is quite scary and sometimes even daunting to bring attention to the aspects that set us apart from our partners. We tend to assume that these differences are warning signs of incompatibility, the source of conflicts, and the ultimate demise of our relationships.
But they are not.
Instead, what these differences often trigger are misunderstandings, fears, projections, defensiveness, unaddressed emotional wounds, and disappointment.
It is these challenges that have the potential to knock us down if we fail to work through them with our partners.
Differences are to be acknowledged.
Conflicts are to be navigated.
Both can help us gain a better understanding of our partners.
When we disagree with each other, we are given an opportunity to learn to solve the puzzles together as a team. Engaging in constructive, healthy conflicts has the power to strengthen our connection, deepen our trust and love for each other, and foster more personal and relational growth.
So, what should we do the next time we find ourselves in disagreement and want to turn that into something meaningful?
Here are some tips to consider (Darlene, L. 2020; Gwendolyn, S. 2017):
- It is okay to agree to disagree, because it is unrealistic and impossible to agree on everything. We can try to remind ourselves that we are meant to have conflicts because we are two different people.
- Pause and reflect. Take ownership of your thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Recognize your unspoken wants and needs, instead of bottling them up for future resentment.
- Stay curious. Make an effort to distinguish between their actions and their intentions, giving them the benefit of doubt that they are doing their best. Try to see things from their point of view and ask for clarification when you don’t understand.
- Stay in the moment. One issue at a time. It is better to address things as they come up, than silently stacking them and then throwing them all at our loved ones at a later time. Being on the receiving end of this is not fun and usually triggers defensiveness.
- Patience is crucial, not only during the conversation, but also throughout the process. Allow conversations to occur multiple times. Times when you both feel relatively calm and relaxed to talk about things. Times when you are able to slow down and reflect with openness and respect on your parts in this. And, when needed, call for a timeout.
- Never say never or always. It sounds like an accusation rather than simply us wanting to be heard. Remember: our partners are on the same team as us, not our adversaries. It is not about winning or losing. It is about seeking for a shared understanding. Adding on to that, “I” statements are always good to soften the guardedness.
- Hug each other if you can at the end of your argument. Physical touch has its magic to connect us beyond words.
- Last but not least, we all need to negotiate and find a common ground. Let’s embrace compromise with love and kindness, both for ourselves and our loved ones.
Ultimately, we all desire to feel connected, understood, and heard. Conflicts are not the barriers to achieve it. Rather, they present us with chances to further nourish the trust and sense of safety we seek in one another.