With Valentine’s Day approaching, let’s focus on the most important ingredient of a healthy relationship: constructive conflict.
The term conflict usually brings to mind destructive conflict, such as yelling, bullying and physical aggression. But it’s also destructive to hold conflict in and be torn-up inside by anguish that isn’t being expressed. This is true for romances, friendships, parenting and work relationships.
The first time I heard the term constructive conflict, I thought it was an oxymoron. But I have come to appreciate the wisdom of this practice for all healthy relationships.
Conflict is inevitable. Differences of opinion, priorities and experience eventually arise and strain the connection. Depending on how you handle these moments of tension, you can make or break the relationship.
In constructive conflict, people are respectful and use skillful communication. Partners are willing to listen, adapt and apologize when in the wrong. They approach each other with compassion and gentle firmness. They forge new understandings in the heat of constructive conflict, creating a deeper connection. Through this process, relationships grow.
Reflect upon conflict in your relationships. If you aren’t disagreeing with the important people in your life, then the odds are that someone is holding back. Are you suppressing your experience, or are the people in your life afraid to speak up and disagree with you? When you have a conflict, can you hear each other? Even if tempers flare a bit, can you get a grip and listen to each other to find a deeper understanding of the issue at hand? Do your fights lead to resolution? One way to discern this is whether you fight about new issues or loop back to the same conflicts over and over again. Constructive conflict leads to resolution and improvement in the relationship dynamic.
Love isn’t enough to make relationships work. Constructive conflict is the key to genuine closeness with those you love.