I hated conflict in my marriage.
I always wanted to end whatever argument we were having as quickly as possible and run away to go do something that didn’t involve uncomfortable conversation.
The thinking at the time was: Conflict is bad. Two people who are fighting all of the time must not be compatible. Two people who frequently have conflict probably shouldn’t be together. And because I believed things like that, I would get upset with her every time she’d introduce some new conversation (which I registered as another unfair complaint about me!) which she was using to help me understand some pain point she was experiencing in our marriage and was hoping to recruit me to cooperate with her on moving forward.
In his book The New Rules of Marriage, the brilliant couples therapist Terry Real introduces readers to a cycle he says is fundamental to all relationships: The cycle of Harmony, Disharmony, and Repair.
Real says that we build trust by living through this cycle—NOT from always being in a constant state of harmony.
This idea helped me think of relationship conflict not as this horrible thing that must be eliminated at all costs, but instead to embrace it as a necessary component of building sustainable trust with the person I’ve promised to love forever (or really—with just about anyone).
I think of it a little bit like lifting weights. When we lift heavy weight over and over again, our muscles break down into a state of disrepair. They’re temporarily sore and weaker than before. But then, the body repairs the muscle with sufficient rest and nutrients, and a day or so later, those same muscles are stronger and more robust than before.
Strengthening our most important relationships works a little bit the same way. When Disharmony emerges in our relationship, we have to make the conscious choice to Repair it. And when we do that successfully, we heal and cycle back into Harmony even stronger than we were before. And going through that process over and over and over again, strengthens our relationships and reinforces in our minds and hearts that our partner and I can withstand virtually anything, because together we embrace the Repair process every bit as much as we enjoy the (hopefully long!) periods of Harmony in between.
In today’s video, I talk about this Harmony, Disharmony, Repair cycle, and encourage you to embrace it in your own relationships as the exercise necessary to restore and grow Safety and Trust in your most critical relationships. Because Safety and Trust, as discussed extensively in This is How Your Marriage Ends, are essential to healthy relationships that last.