Murphy’s Love: Advice on Intimacy and Relationships: Conflict Is Growth Struggling to Happen

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Dear Stacy,

My husband and I fight very frequently. We always have since the start of our relationship six years ago. The fights have no real consistent theme, and we always make up later (we do say we’re sorry) and we try to do better, but it always happens again. I worry that this is an indicator that we are just a bad match. I hope you can tell me what you think about that.

— Bad Match?

Dear Match:

I am so happy to have this chance to write, in no uncertain terms, that arguing is NOT a sign of a bad match. Phew. Glad to have that off my chest. But I probably should explain myself.

First, I want to validate your concerns here. Fighting with your partner is the scariest thing we can do. Husband is the very best person in the world to ground your anxiety, to co-regulate your other emotions and to heal your old wounds; being in conflict with him is terrifying because it feels unsafe to your core. It makes sense that you would be worried when that happens again and again.

But conflict is actually growth struggling to happen between you both. This means it’s healthy and necessary to disagree and express those feelings in your relationship, so that you both can show your vulnerability and reignite your bond. It’s vital to a healthy relationship. The problem is, most of us have no idea how to do it well.

It sounds like you already have a decent structure for these conflicts, since you always say you’re sorry and try to do better. As long as there is no abusive behavior (abusive words or abusive actions), I’d say we just need to fine-tune your structure a bit.
Most of us pick fights with our partner to achieve reinforcement that we are in this together. Maybe once you’ve determined whose fault it was that the kids were picked up late from school, for example, you can pause and drill the argument down to the primary emotions, by saying: “When you didn’t follow through with our plan, I felt alone, like it was all my responsibility” or “When I got confused about the schedule and asked you for help, it felt like I was failing you again.”

For most of us, it’s a murky path to those deeper emotions, so I recommend finding a counselor to be your guide. In any event, try to remind yourself in the moment of argument that your partner’s anger is his way of protesting a feeling of disconnection from you. Sometimes that understanding makes it easier to meet him in the middle.

Stacy Notaras Murphy is a licensed professional counselor in Georgetown. Visit her on the web at stacymurphyLPC.com. This column is meant for entertainment only and should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. Send your confidential question to stacymurphyLPC@gmail.com.

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