So you’ve had a few relationships go south… Trust me, I’ve been there. And you’re hoping that this time will be different!
But now you and your partner are facing your first fight – Womp Womp. It sucks, it hurts, it’s discouraging, and all that baggage you thought you left behind is back with a vengeance. After all wherever you go, there you are. What now?
First off, how about you start by congratulating yourself for getting to this point! It took a lot of courage and vulnerability to put yourself back into the dating world, and if you’re having your first fight, that means you’ve come a long way from being single and mad about it.
Conflict can actually be seen as a good sign. It means that you care about the relationship and about each other. It shows that you are vulnerable enough to be hurt by one another, and vulnerability is good for your relationship (even if it doesn’t feel that way right now). So congratulations!
It’s time to understand exactly what led to the conflict, and dive into what each of you is bringing to the table. Most couples I speak with agree that a challenge in their relationship is communication and I agree but for a different reason. It’s not that they aren’t talking and sharing, but they are not talking and sharing about the stuff that REALLY matters. The underlying need or needs are not getting met.
Most conflicts occur from some sort of miscommunication. Something got lost in translation. People tend to focus on the miscommunication first, and forget to figure out what message is being lost. They say or think things like: “You shouldn’t have said that” or “You shouldn’t have done that.” Okay, so we didn’t get this right, but what was the message that needed to be communicated? What expectation or need isn’t being met?
Remember: It starts with you!
In order to get clear on what need is being communicated, you are going to need to have a handle on what lens you see your relationship through.
A quick example: Your partner gives you some advice on how high to preheat the oven. You freak out and get defensive. What is your lens here? It could be that you are afraid of being in an overbearing relationship. If so, that would explain why a little well intentioned advice about how high to preheat the oven was triggering. If this lens sounds familiar, one of your needs/expectations might be freedom. So the lens is: Fear of overbearing relationships. The need is: Freedom, Independence, Autonomy.
Another example: You get an innocuous text from a coworker. Your partner freaks out and gets accusatory. Their lens might be: Fear of being taken advantage of, fear of being cheated on. That explains why the text felt threatening. Their need, in this case, might be: Trust, Commitment, Monogamy.
Identifying our own lens allows us to understand what need is being poorly communicated. If you can get curious about your lens and your expectations, then you are ready to make an agreement.
How do the two of you want to communicate these needs in the future? Can you help each other identify when the other person is freaking out because an expectation of theirs is being neglected? Can you learn to shift your lens and trust that your partner is not secretly trying to bring about the problems that made your previous relationships fail?
Come up with a plan that works for both of you, and put it into action. You are going to get into more arguments – it’s not IF, it’s WHEN – and that’s okay! Learning to communicate and understand your needs/expectations is part of the joy and growth that can occur in a healthy relationship. Get prepared to go into the trenches with your partner from time to time and come out the other side stronger for it.
It’s not always easy to get these moments right. Conflict resolution can be scary, intense, and challenging, but it is a key part of every successful relationship. You don’t have to go it alone! Consider getting support from your friendly neighborhood relationships coach. (I think his name is Bob Conlin… but I’ve never seen him in the same room as Peter Parker… so…)