Autism and neurodivergence

What to do when there is conflict in our romantic relationship?

As social beings, humans have the need to develop safe emotional connections with others in order to thrive and survive, and feel happy and fulfilled. This need has been shaped and wired in by millions of years of human evolution. When we are born, we have the need to connect and attach to our caregivers.

As we get older, our attachment figure becomes our partner. It’s no surprise then that we tend to experience a significant amount of stress whenever we have an argument with our partner, or there is on-going conflict in our relationship.

Below we discusses two strategies for minimising conflict in romantic relationships including identifying negative interaction styles and identifying and communicating needs. 

Negative interaction styles: are you pursuing or withdrawing?

The first step to minimising conflict is to recognise our negative interaction cycles. Typically, when partner conflict occurs, each person in the relationship can either be a pursuer or a withdrawer. The pursuer will attack or be demanding and critical of their partner, while the withdrawer will distance themselves, stonewall, or give the silent treatment.

By recognising your interaction style in an argument, you and your partner might be able to change these behaviours that prevent you from reaching a resolution and repairing your relationship. Try naming the pursuer/withdrawer when those behaviours present each other and talk about them. Humour can be a useful tool in helping make light of our negative cycles, as long as it’s not used to ridicule.

What need is your partners behaviour attempting to communicate?

The next step is to recognise that most behaviours shown in an argument (except harmful ones), are just different ways a person is trying to communicate their needs and protect themselves from being hurt. For example, anger and criticism may be masking feelings of fear of disconnection from our partner when we really need them to come closer and show their care for us.

It can be tricky to identify such needs in ourselves, let alone in others no matter how long we have known our partner. So, if you are aware of what you need, let your partner know. Being there for someone you love, comforting and supporting them is a pleasure, not a burden. Your partner might be trying to meet your needs, but they’re not a mind-reader. If they keep getting it wrong, feelings of anger and resentment can grow, so work towards developing the habit of telling your partner exactly what you need. 

When we are able to communicate our needs in healthy ways and have those needs met by our loved one, this breaks down negative interaction cycles and builds positive ones.

Written by Nina Loncarevic, Clinical Psychologist.

More information

If you would like to learn more about how to resolve conflict in romantic relationships or to book an appointment with Nina or another one of our experienced clinical psychologist, contact our friendly client team by calling 6143 4499 or email via our contact page.

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