Disagreements are commonplace in relationships. Many call them the spice of life. Others view them as critical to the evolving dynamic between two individuals that makes them challenge each other’s worldview. Yet others look at them as spelling absolute disaster, especially if they have become a characteristically repeating pattern, triggering strong emotional responses by either or both partners.
In reality the existence of a disagreement or the occurrence of a fight between you and your partner is not a problem in itself. It is the follow up to it that is critical to how the relationship takes shape in the future.
Stonewalling your partner
An approach where there is stonewalling resulting in no conversation about the situation and the accompanying emotions can result in increasing disconnect between the two of you. What it symbolises in the mind of both is a lack of concern, empathy and sensitivity towards the experience of your partner. It makes one feel excluded and unable to rely on the other across other moments that may be difficult.
Stonewalling then becomes the least effective way of communicating your hurt to your partner, though that may be exactly what you are attempting to do. Instead, it sets in motion a reciprocal process of hurting each other continually through this approach which has now gotten set into your pattern with each other.
From stonewalling to connecting
Changing this is not an impossible task. It needs measured steps from each of you. The initiator of these steps can be either you or your partner and it is important to know that if you are both hurting then a step taken by one person can lead to a parallel process by the other as well. Let’s look at the steps that you can take to ease the emotional experience that both of you have when you have had that rather big fight.
Connect to your emotion
As a first step, it is crucial you connect to your emotional experience of the situation that occurred. You may be feeling a mix of strong emotions, however, what may be most easily observable are perhaps anger and sadness. Usually, an individual feels a lot more and it helps to be able to label these as it facilitates communication about it.
Be open to being vulnerable with each other
The key to a successful relationship is building the confidence to share more of yourself with your partner each day. It can start with the daily routines of your life, moving to your interactions with others, incorporating your inner thoughts and feelings, sharing of your personal life goals as well as your fears and anxieties.
Bring honesty into your communication
Much that becomes a source of dispute involves feelings that a partner is being evasive, dishonest, lying or cheating. This is not always about other people in your life but can also be about things like what plans you have, your finances, experiences you’ve had, information about your family or your friends.
Share when things emerge
Do not wait for things to build up. You may think you can handle your emotional experience in a given situation. However, often things keep piling up only to come forth in a singular moment where it becomes too overwhelming for it all to be addressed and taken care of. Instead, it is prudent to talk about issues as they emerge while maintaining a calm demeanour in addressing them.
Be willing to listen
The experience both you and your partner are having are equally important. As much as you want your perspective heard and valued, be willing to listen as well. Unless you have a very powerful reason to mistrust, be willing to have faith in what you are hearing.
Have the conversation after the fight
Always circle back to take stock of what happened. Don’t leave things unresolved as they only fester. There is no time frame to this process but the earlier you do it the less likely it is that more meaning and intent will get attributed to it.
Being in a relationship, sustaining it and making it work involve hard work. You need to engage, think, reflect, introspect and continually process what is going on to maintaining its quality.
—By Kamna Chhibber
( Kamna Chhibber is the Head (Mental Health), Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences at Fortis Healthcare)