Bring On The Conflict – Redefining The Argument

Awhile ago, I was browsing Cosmo out of boredom with a friend, and we stumbled upon an article called “How to Fight with Your Man,” which talked about how to know when to approach your man about a problem, etc. While I can’t say I would trust Cosmo’s advice, I jokingly made the comment that gee, maybe that could be helpful. My friend turned to me and with a slight look of judgement, said, “Um, me and my boyfriend…we don’t fight.”

What?

I think the “fight” has been much misconstrued. The belief of my friend here, and of many others I believe, is that disagreements and conflict are signs of trouble. When someone says that they and their significant other are “fighting,” it’s natural to picture heated arguments, slamming doors, and ignoring calls. They must hate each other, they can’t get along, they’re on the brink of splitting. That’s what fighting is, right?

Wrong. While it might be true that conflict and disagreements are signs of a relationship headed south, they can also be signs of a relationship done right.

Many couples, especially in the early stages of their relationship, are afraid and avoidant of conflict. After all, who wants to ruin the honeymoon phase with such serious talk? Whether it’s being late for dates, not responding well to texts, or some silly annoying habit, relationship novices are often unwilling to confront their problems with their significant other. They are worried that once they reach the status of “fighting,”  things are over.

This is where many are so, so misguided. In my mind, there is a difference between “fighting” and “discussion,” or “disagreeing.” Think about every time you’ve ever disagreed with someone on something, no matter how minute: whether your shirt is “coral” or “salmon,” what time you should leave for the concert: absolutely every disagreement. Now estimate how many of those “disagreements” turned into “fights,” where things got heated and there was lasting damage to the relationship. I’m guessing the percentage is pretty small.

What makes the difference between “disagreements” and “fights?” Part of it is subject matter. You’re more likely to get into a heated argument with someone over your religious beliefs than who is the best Harry Potter character. You’re more likely to get into conflict over things that are close to your core beliefs and yourself. Subject matter isn’t the whole story, though. What really separates a “discussion” or “disagreement” from a “fight” is the manner in which both parties approach the difference of opinion or belief.

Disagreements are bound to happen in any relationship, whether it’s a friendship, a familial relationship, or a romantic relationship. As I mentioned before, we deal with disagreement daily. The reason why many couples fear disagreement is they believe that disagreement equals fighting.

It doesn’t have to. In two years of dating, I can say that my boyfriend and I have maybe only once “fought.” We have, however, “disagreed” and “discussed” countless times more.

Conflict at its core is indicative of growth. When we read something that conflicts with our beliefs, for example, we either grow stronger in our own beliefs or change our beliefs to adapt to new information. When we have conflicts in life, whether within our selves or even with something external such as a tragedy, challenge, etc., we often come out better people for the experience. Relationships aren’t exempt from this law of nature.

Conflict, if handled correctly, is a chance to deepen relationships, not tear them apart. If both sides are courteous, receptive, calm, and want what’s best for everyone involved, conflict is an opportunity to learn about the beliefs of both sides and ultimately improve the quality of the relationship. It’s not something to fear or to avoid.

It’s all about the approach. Disagreements are civil. They consist of two people sitting down, exchanging their separate opinions, and either agreeing to disagree, or finding a way to mesh the two differing beliefs. Disagreements are about problem-solving. Both sides must enter the difference of opinion with the goal of making both parties happier. Fights are about winning. Where there is a winner, there is always a loser. Who wants to be a “loser” or be in a relationship with a “loser?” No one.

This, of course, takes maturity. It also takes humility. It sometimes takes the courage to say “I was wrong,” or “Your idea is better.” It takes the wisdom to hold one’s tongue and keep your cool. But do we really need to disagree to be happy?

As my mother always has told me, “When there’s no fighting, someone is holding their tongue.” It is literally impossible for two human beings to spend as much time together as is typical of a romantic relationship without disagreeing on SOMETHING. As I asked before, how many times have you disagreed with someone on something? Lots and lots and lots, even if you didn’t openly express it.

When it’s someone you’re not close to, differences of opinion quickly fade. You get upset, but you probably see the person very little after the incident if ever again. You’re not going to probably see the rude waiter again, or the guy who shoved you on the train. You’re not going to harbor all of that anger toward every random person you’ve ever disagreed with, forever. If you did, you’d be awfully unhappy!

You have to openly disagree and express feelings of difference with someone that you love for one simple reason: you’re going to see them again and again. The problems you may have with them, the issues you’d like to confront, won’t go away.

Harboring negative feelings may seem like a good idea at first, but it’s like blowing up a balloon really slowly, each time you add another qualm to the laundry list. Eventually the balloon of emotions will pop, and it will be much more explosive and ugly than the small act of having addressed each negative feeling as it came.

Even if I was totally wrong, I can say I’ve never regretted disagreeing with those that I love. In the same way that a plant must push through the soil to reach the sun, relationships must approach and endure conflict in order to finally come to a place of deeper understanding and growth.

In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.” So next time you think about holding your tongue and letting something slide that shouldn’t, consider this: would you rather your relationship blossom or be forever stuck in the mud?

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