Of all the things that make people unhappy, being in a high-conflict romantic relationship has to be one of the worst.
Unfortunately, because of subtle influences like cultural pressures, many people in high-conflict relationships are in denial about it. They’re admirably motivated to “make the relationship work,” but don’t really understand why there’s so much conflict and pain in their relationship despite their best efforts.
If you want less conflict in your relationship, learn to see the root causes of that conflict—many of which are psychological in nature.
Whether you’ve been married for 40 years or dating for 4 weeks, you can create a more satisfying and intimate relationship by learning to see and confront the real causes of your conflict.
1. Trying to fix each other’s feelings
No matter how painful, emotions like sadness or anxiety are not problems.
When someone we love is hurting and suffering, it’s natural to want to help them feel better. The problem is, when you treat someone’s feelings like problems, it’s invalidating. It makes them feel bad for feeling bad.
Of course, how your partner feels is ultimately their responsibility, not yours. But you can help them most by letting them know that it’s okay to feel whatever they’re feeling instead of trying to fix it.
Painful feelings are not problems to be fixed; they are experiences to be validated.
Unfortunately, most of us grow up learning that it’s not okay to feel bad—that if we feel bad, we are bad. And even more tragically, this belief gets reinforced as adults when the people around us treat our feelings like problems.
Get in the habit of reminding your partner that it’s okay for them to feel whatever they’re feeling. When you do, you’ll find you have far less conflict and more intimacy than you ever thought possible.
Learn More: How to Validate Emotions in 3 Simple Steps
2. You have a hard time just listening
One of the biggest reasons people have conflict in their relationships is they can’t shut up when the other person is talking.
- When your spouse is criticizing you for something, you instantly get defensive and start listing reasons why you’re right and they’re wrong. It takes a lot of humility and patience, but you could simply listen and try to see if there’s any truth in what they’re saying.
- Or, your partner is describing how bad they feel and you pepper them with advice and suggestions for what they need to start doing differently to feel better.
Whatever the case may be, you’d have a lot less conflict in your relationship if you practiced shutting up and just listening.
People who are suffering often want connection more than solutions.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming that more information is always the solution.
Your partner will trust you a lot more if they’re able to offer criticism without you biting their head off for it. And they’ll be more willing to take your brilliant advice if you can be compassionate before you start preaching.
3. Avoiding talking about how you feel
I get it: it’s hard to talk about how you really feel, especially if how you feel is painful or embarrassing. And it’s even harder to talk about how you feel if you have a history of being shamed or attacked for talking about how you feel.
But neither of those change the fact that you can’t build more intimacy and trust in your relationship without being willing to talk about how you feel.
You will always feel lonely in a relationship if you can’t express how you really feel.
If you really believe that it is—and always will be—unsafe to express your feelings, maybe you shouldn’t be in that relationship at all.
But if there’s at least a chance of things getting better, both partners have to start trusting each other with their feelings.
So sit down, talk about it plainly, and make a commitment to respect each other’s feelings whenever they’re expressed.
Learn More: How to Be More Emotionally Vulnerable
4. Quiet resentment
Resentment is a powerful source of relationship conflict. And it’s especially powerful when you insist on being quiet about your resentments and never acknowledging them.
But here’s the deal: Your resentments will come out one way or another. And if you’re dishonest about your resentments on top of feeling resentful, it’s very hard to overcome them.
The first step to overcoming resentment is being willing to acknowledge that it’s even there.
There’s a ton of pressure to make relationships work. Or at least to make it seem like they’re working. Unfortunately, insisting that an unhealthy relationship look healthy all the time is a great way to only make it worse.
It’s hard enough to work through resentments with each other but it’s borderline impossible if you’re not honest with yourself about them first.
Learn More: How to be More Assertive
Gaslighting is when you imply that someone is crazy for thinking or feeling what they do.
And while gaslighting often takes extreme forms—manipulating someone into thinking they are literally losing touch with reality—it’s far more common in milder but not necessarily less toxic forms.
- Each time your spouse brings up feeling anxious about their boss at work, you roll your eyes.
- When your partner talks about how angry they feel, you list four reasons why it doesn’t make sense to feel angry.
The problem is, when we’re in the habit of gaslighting our partners, we contribute to them feeling insecure. And when people feel insecure, they’re going to get defensive. And defensiveness only leads to more conflict.
No matter how illogical or nonsensical your partner’s feelings may seem to you, remember this:
Just because they feel bad doesn’t make them crazy.
So the next time they say something about how they feel that seems obviously irrational or absurd, try this instead:
Yeah, I can see why you’d feel like that.
6. You have different values (but can’t admit it)
When you first fall in love it feels like you and your partner are on the same page with everything.
But as we all know, those early feelings can be deceptive. And frequently, couples find themselves years into a serious relationship and on very different pages about the biggest things: political views, parenting philosophies, religious preferences, etc.
And when you have major disagreements on your values, conflict is likely to occur. Thankfully, this doesn’t have to be the case…
Different values don’t have to be a deal-breaker—but you’ll never know if you can’t admit to them.
There are plenty of examples of happy couples out there who have extremely different values in certain areas. The difference is, they’re usually incredibly transparent about those differences.
Because here’s the thing: You’ll only be able to navigate major values differences if you have deep empathy and understanding for your partner’s beliefs and world-views. But you can’t do that if you can’t admit that there are real differences between the two of you!
Have the courage to be open about your values. Because it’s only when you’re honest that real understanding and empathy can happen.
All You Need to Know
Everybody has some conflict in their relationship. But if you and your partner consistently have intense levels of conflict, it’s likely that one or more of these psychological sources of conflict is the cause.
If you want to have less conflict and more genuine intimacy in your relationship, find the courage to see and admit these sources of conflict:
- Trying to fix each other’s feelings
- You have a hard time just listening
- You avoid talking about how you feel
- Quiet resentment
- You have different values (but can’t admit it)