Ruptures and Repairs
Relationships are simply a series of ruptures and repairs.
One moment you and your partner are attuned and on the same page. You’re making eye contact, talking fluidly, and feel comfortable and safe in your bodies. The next, you’re not. Something is said that rubs you the wrong way. You tense up. You feel annoyed. You withdraw from the conversation. There has been a rupture in your attunement and sense of connection. When you feel ready, you tell your partner that something he said upset you, and you check in with him about what he actually meant. You have a conversation about what happened and how you both feel about it. You feel connected again.
Healthy vs. Unhealthy Conflict
Conflict in and of itself is neither good nor bad; it is simply a neutral, predictable reality of human relating. No two people are 100% alike, and wherever there are differences, there are bound to be moments of friction. But there are healthy and unhealthy ways to handle conflict. It is when conflict is handled in unhealthy ways that it then becomes damaging and harmful.
Most of us grew up in families where conflict was navigated poorly and in ways that felt unsafe. In your family what did conflict look like? The silent treatment? Passive aggression? Withdrawal of approval or affection? Slow simmering anger? Rage? Yelling? Slamming of doors? An unpredictable combination of all of the above?
When we grow up in families where conflict was avoided and/or handled in ways that damaged our sense of connection and safety, we naturally fear and avoid conflict in adulthood. Unhealthy management of conflict goes hand-in-hand with unhealthy boundaries, or enmeshment. When we fear conflict, it’s a sign that our boundaries need some attention.
Conflict Avoidant? Work on Your Boundaries
What is the connection between fear of conflict and unhealthy boundaries? When we have healthy boundaries we have a clear sense that we, and everyone around us, are separate, distinct people with our own feelings, opinions, perspectives, motives, intentions, desires, needs, etc. Healthy boundaries means that we know what is ours versus what is other people’s.
Healthy boundaries are important when navigating conflict because they allow us to maintain healthy levels of detachment from other people’s experience—we are able to allow another person to have their own experience, even when it differs from our own.
Most of us understand boundaries on a physical level, because we can see them with our eyes: you have your own body and I have mine. But it gets trickier with emotional boundaries. Do you know what feelings are yours and what feelings aren’t? Can you allow other people to have their emotional experiences, even when it brings up uncomfortable feelings in you? Healthy conflict is only possible when we have healthy emotional boundaries.
- Believe conflict is negative and disagreements should be avoided.
- Expect that disagreements will damage your connection with others and effect how they feel about you and how they treat you.
- Expect others to take conflict or disagreement personally.
- Take conflict/disagreement personally yourself.
- Expect there to be negative relational consequences (i.e. getting the cold shoulder, rejection, abuse) for disagreements, misunderstandings, or differences in perspective.
- Withdraw your affection and approval from people you otherwise care about, in response to conflict or disagreement.
- Fear that the whole relationship, and any feelings of safety you have in it, will crumble if there is a conflict.
Healing Your Relationship with Conflict
When we hold these kinds of beliefs it’s stressful, but we can heal our relationship with conflict. The first step toward healing our relationship with conflict is to normalize it for ourselves: disagreement is OK. Having differences in opinion and perspective is to be expected.
Next, get curious about how conflict, disagreement, and differences were handled in your family of origin. In families with unhealthy boundaries there is typically a long intergenerational history of poor conflict resolution skills and lack of emotional awareness. As a result, conflict was feared and labeled “bad” because it was navigated in ways that are damaging and unsafe.
Get comfortable feeling your emotions, even difficult ones. Conflict is often deeply unsettling and uncomfortable, especially if you're Highly Sensitive and have a brain that is wired to feel everything—especially interpersonal upset—more deeply. Learning to sit with and feel our painful emotions helps us navigate conflict more calmly and effectively.
Lastly, get really good at repairing after conflict. How was conflict resolution modeled for you? For many of us, the issue was that we never had any resolution modeled. The rupture occurred, but where was the repair? After a rupture in attunement and connection there always needs to be a re-connection and repair. A lack of adequate re-connection and repair after conflict is where most of us go wrong. Failing to repair after conflict is what leads to long-term damage and harm.
Is There Such Thing as Too Much Conflict?
Yes, there is. While occasional conflict is a natural, normal, inescapable part of human relating, if you find yourself in a relationship where conflict is happening all the time, it might be time to ask if the relationship is working for you. Yes, all relationships require work and compromise, but genuine incompatibility is a real thing as well. Why are you having to work so hard?
It Takes Two to Tango
If you are in conflict with someone who is acting in an abusive manner—using manipulation, gaslighting, shaming, circular arguments, guilt tripping, refusing to listen to you and take your perspective into account, belittling, refusing to take responsibility for their actions, etc.—it is important to set firm boundaries to protect yourself. Sometimes this means removing yourself from the situation entirely, even if the conflict is not resolved.
It requires two willing participants to fight fairly and to fight well. Do not use the information in this article to justify staying in an abusive dynamic. Remember, healthy conflict is respectful at all times, even during moments of anger.
Meet the Author
Ready to heal yourself?
Maggie is a therapist based out of Lawrence, Kansas who specializes in therapy for highly sensitive adults, therapy for self-worth, therapy for anxiety, therapy for childhood trauma.
Maggie is passionate about helping people overcome shame and the fear of being their true selves. Breaking the cycles of people-pleasing and self-abandonment is possible; you don't have to suffer alone. Maggie offers online therapy throughout the state of Kansas.
Reach out today to schedule your free 15 minute phone consultation!
Other Services Offered by Maggie
In addition to providing online therapy anywhere in Kansas, Maggie is also a professional astrologer, and offers Birth Chart Readings anywhere in the United States, as well as abroad.
Astrology is a powerful tool for gaining self-awareness, finding meaning in and understanding of our difficult experiences, and for receiving validation regarding our own unique life path. All of which supports our mental health in a positive way!
Interested in getting a Natal Chart Reading? Book a free phone consultation and let’s get started!