Fighting is a complicated issue in relationships. It can come in all different forms—quiet seething, civilized disagreements, or what feels like all-out verbal warfare. And not only can it manifest in different ways, it’s also something that people feel very differently about. Some people thrive off of the drama of a disagreement, while for many of us, fighting is the worst possible outcome.
But why are so many of us conflict-averse? Well, it’s a mixture of personality, experience, and so many other things, but when it comes to avoiding conflict in relationships, some psychologists think there’s a particular force at play. It may have a lot to do with your mindset. People tend to have a “fixed mindset” or a “growth mindset.” In other words, they tend to think that your personality is set in stone or that it’s constantly evolving. Those of us with a “fixed mindset” tend to be more confrontation-averse, to the point where it can actually hurt our relationships. Here’s what you need to know about confrontation in relationships.
Understand What Confrontation Is
“In the fixed mindset, the ideal is instant, perfect, and perpetual compatibility. Like it was meant to be,” Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck writes in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. “It’s not that the partners will work to help each other solve their problems or gain skills. It’s that this will magically occur through their love.” Sounds great, right? But there are a couple of major issues with the fixed mindset, Dweck explains. The first is that it’s not realistic—love doesn’t swoop in and do the dishes for you or make your in-laws less ridiculous. The second—and bigger—problem with the fixed mindset is that when problems arise, you panic or back away from them. Because, in a fixed mindset, conflict seems like it’s a sign of incompatibility or that you don’t love each other enough, so you just don’t want to deal with it. That means that problems don’t get dealt with. And problems that don’t get dealt with don’t go away, they grow.
But if you have a “growth mindset”, you can start to see fights as opportunities. Disagreeing is a chance to learn more about each other, to understand each other’s point of view, and find a compromise. You don’t need to see a disagreement as a sign that you’re not compatible—it’s just a sign that your It’s important to realize you can use this opportunity to make your relationship stronger.
Start Small And Be Honest
If you are more confrontation-averse or find yourself worrying that disagreeing is bad for your relationship, you may need to start small to break the pattern. Rather than just going along with your partner's choice for where to go to dinner, be honest if you’re not in the mood and want to try something else. Things as simple as picking paint colors or what movie to see can be good practice for embracing disagreement and differing opinions—and realizing that it won't ruin your relationship. Gently confronting them when you don’t agree is a great place to start.
And just remember that honesty is key. A relationship isn't about being 100 percent in sync all the time—in fact, that sounds pretty boring. But it is about being comfortable enough with someone to be honest and candid about anything. Once you're more comfortable disagreeing, make sure you start being open about telling your partner when your feelings are hurt, when you don’t like how they’ve behaved, or even if you’ve just had a terrible day. Airing any grievances quickly and openly will let you resolve them—and ultimately make your relationship so much stronger.
There’s No Need To Romanticize Fighting
Although it’s important to realize that conflict and confrontation are totally normal (and sometimes good) parts of your relationship, there’s no need to go too far the other way and romanticize all-out fighting. There’s a difference between disagreeing and having a partner who is aggressive or antagonistic. Disagreeing is only good for your relationship if you do it in a constructive, healthy, and safe way. That doesn’t include screaming matches or throwing plates across the room. Some people romanticize toxic behavior as a sign of passion or the strength of their bond—when it’s just someone behaving really, really badly. Don’t make excuses for your partner if there’s actual aggression, because that’s very different than constructive, gentle confrontation.
Some people are always going to be more conflict-averse and that’s OK—I’m totally one of those people and accept that about myself. But what I have learned is that my relationship is more important to me than my need to avoid conflict. So we have the difficult conversations, we call each out if we feel hurt or confused, and we allow ourselves to disagree. It’s a sign of being comfortable with each other, not incompatibility. Remember that people–and relationships—are not fixed. There’s plenty of room to grow.