ON RE­LA­TION­SHIPS

Find­ing a way to be to­gether with­out the con­flict

IN Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Adam Se­gal

Find­ing a way to be to­gether with­out the con­flict

My part­ner and I have been to­gether for four years, and for the last two we have been a mess. We get into fights that end with one of us storm­ing off and ‘break up’ only to start things again a few days later when we have great sex. This con­tin­ues on for a brief pe­riod of peace un­til the next fight. I have told my­self that I will step away as soon as I see us on our way to­wards a fight, but once it starts it’s hard not to feel com­pelled to stick it out and stand up for my­self. We have a very pas­sion­ate re­la­tion­ship and clearly can’t get away from each other—how do we find a way to be to­gether with­out all of the con­flict? —Saul

Dear Saul:

The fan­tas­tic Cana­dian mu­si­cian Martha Wain­wright starts a song with the line “I re­ally like the make-up sex, it’s the only kind I ever get.” This sen­ti­ment seems to em­body some of your re­la­tion­ship woes. You de­scribe your re­la­tion­ship as pas­sion­ate and I can un­der­stand why, con­sid­er­ing all the highs and lows—but you want to be care­ful not to con­fuse in­tense con­flict with true in­ti­macy or ro­mance.

Some­times a re­la­tion­ship can tox­ify over time, where per­pet­ual con­flict ac­tu­ally be­comes the ‘glue’ that keeps things to­gether. It usu­ally un­folds like this: a big blow-up leads to a tem­po­rary breakup only to be fol­lowed up by a briefly bliss­ful re­union...and then the cy­cle re­peats. A cou­ple of good ques­tions to con­sider are: Would you feel con­nected to your part­ner with­out all of this spar­ring? Have there been times in your re­la­tion­ship where you en­joyed each other ’s com­pany with­out things be­ing ei­ther in­tensely good or in­tensely bad?

If you feel like there is more to this re­la­tion­ship than cy­cles of con­flict, you two must be will­ing to en­gage with each other dif­fer­ently. Of course cou­ples do fight now and then, but there is healthy fight­ing and then there are all-out throw-downs that only make things worse. At this point it sounds un­likely that things will im­prove with­out the ben­e­fit of some in­vest­ment in cou­ples ther­apy. Learn­ing to com­mu­ni­cate with­out so much in­ten­sity will feel strange at first and quite vul­ner­a­ble. Your own per­sonal motto could be ‘al­ways meet in­ap­pro­pri­ate­ness with ap­pro­pri­ate­ness.’ This means that no mat­ter how ag­gres­sive or nasty your part­ner might be­come in a dis­cus­sion, you will refuse to en­gage on that level. This way you can feel good about your be­hav­iour and know that you aren’t dish­ing out the dis­re­spect that had be­come too nor­mal­ized over time. Both of you will need to be equally on board with this im­prove­ment pro­ject—or else you might need to call it a day.

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