When the Princess meets the Prince in the Disney movies, it is happily ever after. We don’t see the scenes a year on when they argue about when to have a child, where to live, and how much contact there are having with his parents, who they are living with in the castle! The drama in the movies is about getting the prince, not about being with him!
So, it is no surprise that many people wonder what on earth is happening when the relationship reaches the inevitable ‘differences’ and ‘struggles’ stages.
Now, here’s the important thing. The problem is not that you have differences; that is NORMAL. What you need to be aware of is how you are dealing with the conflict.
Can you talk things through without one of you storming out?
Can you communicate without shouting?
Do you feel safe in the conflict? If not, do you feel unsafe physically? Why? Are you being threatened? Do they go to hit you? – if so, this IS unsafe and a HUGE red flag. Please get help straight away. Or are you safe, but you feel physically unsafe because of childhood memories?
Do you feel emotionally safe? Do they start name-calling or putting you down? Again, HUGE red flags. Note that many people feel emotionally unsafe during conflict because the risk is that the relationship will not survive the disagreement.
Something that can help to increase safety during conflict is to have rules around conflict. For example, you might agree that you will not threaten to leave the relationship during a fight or that you will not slam doors when you feel angry.
Learning to navigate conflict can be loaded in any relationship because we all have different experiences from our family of origin. Thinking about how conflict was handled at home can give us a lot of insight into how we handle it as adults.
For me, conflict was incredibly anxiety-provoking at home, and I find I still have to manage my nervous system when in conflict with people I love. That’s okay because I have tools to manage it that work for me.
It is normal in the ‘differences’ and ‘conflict’ phases to be considering if this is the right relationship for you. If you feel uncertain, maybe find someone you trust to talk to?
In what ways do you find conflict challenging in intimate relationships?