Struggling Couples Versus Healthy Couples

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An important differentiator between healthy couples and struggling couples is not the presence or absence of conflict. Conflict arises from time to time in all relationships, it’s unavoidable. But what we do find when thinking about struggling couples versus healthy couples is a very different underlying approach to conflict. Struggling couples take on an adversarial, judgmental attitude where blaming and defensiveness take centerstage. Healthy couples take on an empathetic, curious attitude where openness and acceptance take centerstage.

The shift that needs to occur for struggling couples where partners want to improve the quality of their relationship is to wipe the slate clean by setting the firm intention to stop viewing each other as adversaries and instead as partners, as two people on the same team facing a common foe. Most people enter into a conflict situation with the goal of winning. They can’t help but take on the adversarial attitude. That might sometimes work in the world at large but it doesn’t work in intimate romantic relationships, where winning is actually losing in that the adversarial attitude causes the buildup of resentment and hostility, which comes to infect all facets of daily life together. Winning a fight shouldn’t be the emphasis, it shouldn’t even be a consideration.

What needs to be kept front and center is that conflict is a clear sign that a partner is suffering, that something is wrong. The goal should be to do whatever possible to help reduce that suffering, period. Taking on a curious, non-judgmental attitude is the best inroad. Instead of instantly taking up the relied upon sword and shield of blaming and defensiveness the ideal is to think and say “I see that you are hurting what can I do to help?” Struggling couples might act as if, and even believe, that they’re interested in finding a good solution to the conflict situation but what they’re really interested in is passing the buck, in trying to make those aversive, unwanted thoughts and feelings go away by blaming someone or something else for the situation, by arguing their way out of it, by refusing to take any responsibility for the current state of affairs, by seeing one another not as dear friends who need help and support but as enemies purposefully causing undue distress.