Growing up I had this idea that the best way to judge the quality of a relationship was by how little you argued. Accordingly, I set my sights on getting along with partners, no matter what the cost. Sometimes this cost was really high — it meant not talking about things that were really important to me, the moment I sensed that doing so would cause conflict.
From the outside looking in, it seemed to other people like I had the perfect relationship. We got along so well. There was never any tension.
But on the inside of that relationship (and others like it), I often felt alone. There was so much distance between us, a coldness.
I realized that we didn’t get along perfectly. I was just scared to conflict with my partner.
There came a point where I realized I should be risking it, bringing up the difficult things. So I garnered my courage and started to be more frank. This would improve our relationship, I reasoned. Make it closer. Make it better. But that wasn’t what happened. Instead, being honest when I disagreed went terribly.
I had sensed my partner wouldn’t be open to contradiction or challenge — even gently and respectfully. And I was right. The arguments that resulted were nasty and counterproductive, quickly devolved into even more coldness, more distance.
We eventually parted ways. (It was for the best for both of us.)
I Argued More in My Next Relationship
I went into my next relationship quite a bit differently. I argued a lot more. Not to be difficult, mind you. I wasn’t picking fights or anything. But when I naturally disagreed, I said so. Respectfully, typically gently.
Did this always go well, even so? No. Most of the time it did, but there were occasions when conflicts became more heated than I wanted them to. But we always found a way to come back to a mutual understanding. And at the end of the day, it was an improved understanding — a deeper, richer one.
I feel like I really get you. And I feel like you really get me.
At this point, I have probably argued with you more than anyone else I’ve ever known. And that’s a good sign. Because I feel comfortable being honest with you — especially when it’s hard.
That’s how you know you have something special. It’s not when you always agree, but when you feel safe enough to not shy away from natural conflict but to embrace it.