“We’re just too…different.” DIRTY PIRATE LIES
On facebook, I’ve “liked” the page of this non-profit organization called Healthy Relationships California. I love it because I randomly get articles from them in my news feed about how to have healthier relationships. The articles can be hit and miss, granted, but they do often post a lot of insightful ones. So much so, that I’ve started printing out the ones that I like (I know, so NOT green) and keeping them in a binder. It’s the researcher in me – I like compiling information on a subject. Someday this will be useful. I hope.
I’m trying to get braver about writing posts about relationships. As I’ve mentioned before, I feel very unqualified and therefore nervous that readers will raise an eyebrow of skepticism at me for venturing to share my thoughts. But I’m also really passionate about this topic because I think, in some ways, relationships are becoming increasingly difficult to navigate. So, in my efforts to process my own views and beliefs about relationships, and what I’m learning through the articles I read, I have found it personally helpful to write these posts and share these articles.
So, now that I’ve prefaced it to death, today’s topic is about conflicts and differences in relationships. For some reason, these issues are often identified as red flags in a relationship. But the truth is, conflict is a normal factor in all relationships and – brace yourself for this one – everyone is different. Such an avant-garde notion, right? But seriously, let’s take a moment to acknowledge the obvious: unless you are dating a clone of yourself, your partner is fundamentally different from you.
I’ll give you a moment to recover, because I know that revelation must have been shocking.
…And we’re back!
Relationships have a cyclical element to them. You go through phases of growth, phases of deepened closeness, phases of contented happiness, phases of “meh”, and – get this – phases of conflict. Over and over and over again. Which means that you don’t fight about something, resolve it, and then never fight about it again. In fact, some would say that you will always fight about the same things in your relationship – what changes over time is how you handle those trigger subjects.
And even then, it’s not a straight line of growth. You take two steps forward, you take a step back. You successfully navigate a difficult time with honest communication and grace toward each other, and then the next time around you backslide into childish tactics. The key is recognizing when you’ve messed up, acknowledging it, and continuing to move forward with the intent to do better next time. And recognizing that your partner is in the same boat, which means you choose not to capsize the boat when they mess up, in the understanding that they also are on a path of growth and want to do better next time as well.
I don’t really feel like I’m saying anything profound or radical here, but it’s amazing how often relationships go under because one or both parties interpret growth as “changing myself into someone who isn’t me” or because they mistake the cyclical nature of the relationship (and the proclivity of both people to mess up or regress) for “going in circles.”
To want a relationship that is free of conflict and differences is to have unrealistic expectations of your partner and of relationships in general. There is not room for honesty or intimacy or (at the risk of sounding like a broken record) growth in a relationship where conflict is avoided and differences discouraged. Instead, this leads to sweeping issues under the rug, stifling one’s opinions for fear of rejection, and overlooking signs that the relationship is in trouble until it is too late.
Whether you are single or in a relationship, the reality is that, over time, you will grow and change. If you are in a relationship and you are determined not to change because you don’t feel that you should have to alter yourself to accommodate someone else, you bring a destructive attitude of resistance and stagnation into the relationship. Furthermore, this distorted perspective of change can translate into an unwillingness to embrace growth. With this mindset, it then becomes easy to dismiss the relationship on the grounds that you and your partner are just “too different,” when perhaps the only real difference is rooted in the unrealistic expectations that you have imposed on your partner, or your unwillingness to work with them to improve your relationship together. Ironically, the motives of which you accused your partner become your motives for rejecting them: “I do not accept the things about you which make you different from me and I shouldn’t have to change myself for this relationship, therefore the problem must be you.”
In that environment, there is no safety, no security, no acceptance. Conflicts are scary because there is no assurance that your partner will be able to separate their view of you from their view of the conflict. Differences are seen as a threat rather than an asset to the relationship. This negative approach to differences further discourages honest communication. The trust factor in the relationship suffers because there is no predictability or certainty about what to expect.
So… my introduction kind of turned into its own post, but I still really want to share the articles that led me to go on this rant in the first place. I guess that means it’s time for another topical series! I’ll share the first article tomorrow and sound off some more about these issues of conflict and differences in relationships.
Disclaimer: I absolutely recognize that there are extreme circumstances in which conflict and differences are unhealthy and even dangerous. Please understand that I’m not at all advocating that people remain in relationships that are physically, emotionally, or psychologically threatening. However, I do believe that even in “normal” relationships that are basically functional and healthy, there can still be unhealthy and unhelpful patterns that develop. My focus is on learning to identify those patterns, increasing our awareness of them, and addressing those behaviors before they get out of control.