The Joy of Conflict and Stress in a Relationship
Written by Amy Rollo, M.A., LSSP, LPA, LPC-S
Founder, Heights Family Counseling
Conflict is necessary. It happens, and it is a growth opportunity in relationships. I caught myself recently having a conversation with my husband that made me chuckle because it was exactly what I hear and talk about daily in the counseling office with my couple clients. My husband is literally a professional flyer, he travels weekly for work. I’m a counselor who is terrified of flying and am quite sure that my plane is going to crash each time I fly. I do the opposite of what I preach to others: I visualize the crashing, think about why planes aren’t safe (side note: humans aren’t meant to fly, we are land creatures…), and almost cry thinking of saying goodbye to the family as we take off. It’s quite the ordeal and comical, but I digress. During our recent weekend getaway on the flight, we had the argument that every couple has regarding communication: One person, usually the wife, wanting to talk about a problem to vent, and the other partner (typically the husband) trying to solve the problem. For us, I was feeling more feisty than usual because my flight anxiety was in full force and was wanting to vent about something. My husband being the practical person and professional flier he is, gave the simple solution for my flight dilemma. I instantly said, “If you respect me you know I am perfectly capable of solving any problem.” He was genuinely puzzled and responded, “Then why are you talking about it?” This simple exchange is what I hear every day. “Why on earth do couples come to each other with their problems if they aren’t wanting them solved” many people ask. The answer is simple, when we feel connected to our partners in times of stress, it strengthens our relationship, connection, and attachment.
In fact, Dr. John Gottman’s research indicates that we should turn toward one another in stressful times. It is one of the biggest indicators of a successful relationship and can help reduce stress for our partner. When one partner is feeling stressed, communication can help the partner feel part of a team. The goal during these times is to feel heard, understood, and cared for. I challenge everyone to try this the next time you realize your partner is needing you to turn toward them in times of stress. Try active listening by reflecting what you hear, “What I hear you saying is…” Bonus points if you can also respond by validating your partner’s feelings and empathizing with them. The move you allow your partner to come to you, the more they will feel safe and secure processing their stressful moments with you, and the more connected you will feel. You might even notice that the conflict decreases!