10 top myths about conflict

The most common myths about ‘conflict’

Unfortunately, we often worry about conflict, and yet conflict is very likely to be a part of many of your relationships. Conflict can in fact help deepen your relationship and goes a long way to developing understanding and trust.

Based on Gottman’s latest book ‘Fight Right’ we would like to uncover the 10 myths of conflict.

Myth #1: Once we find a solution to the big fight we’re having right now, we will be all set – no more fighting.

The Gottman’s research suggests that 69% of fights are perpetual. What does this mean? It means that we will continue to have the same fight for most of our married/couples life. In fact, this probably applies to most relationships. This is because on a fundamental we have different beliefs, values and priorities which can lead us to conflict. These may never change, but this doesn’t mean we can work through the conflict. What is means is that we need to approach conflict differently. At a fundamental level we need to remember that there are values and beliefs that underlie our position and it’s not about shifting those but about how to live with these two versions of reality.

Myth #2: Conflict means our relationship is doomed

This is a typical concern which perhaps comes from the fairytales that many of us grew up with. It could also stem from what we witnesses as children. Perhaps our parents never fought or if they did it was terrible and terrifying. This shapes our view of conflict and dangerous and destructive. It can also impact the way we approach conflict. Bottom line is that conflict is unavoidable even for the happiest of couples. In fact conflict is important.

Myth #3 A conflict is a problem to be solved

Our urge to solve and fix problems, our fixing reflect, is so very strong. It’s our default whenever we experience something we don’t like. A third of our conflicts do have a solution, according to Gottman’s research and we can find those compromises. However the vast majority of our conflict require constant dialogue and understanding. We don’t ever resolve them.

Myth #4 One of us is right and one of us is wrong

Ouch. This is so problematic and so common. Getting into a position where you are feeling righteous will result in your fighting tooth and nail for your position. We need to drop this perspective and instead adopt the understanding that both partners experiences and points of view are valid. They are both true. What matter is how we each see things, how we feel, what we need and if we can hear and validate the others perspective. This is always much more important and impactful that who is ‘right’.

Myth #5 Men are more logical than women and women are more emotional than men

This is a problematic perspective which persists and is a stereotype which harms both men and women. The Gottmans report a study which suggests that over the course of a day, there were absolutely no differences between women and men when it came to their emotions and what triggered them.

Bottom line is both men and women can experience strong emotions and can be rational and logical. In fact, both genders have the same needs to be heard and understood and respected.

Myth #6 The best conflict management is logical, rational and unemotional

Unfortunately when a couple is mismatched in terms of beliefs around emotional expression (where one partner believes talking about emotions is important and the other one prefers to avoid it), one partner may think that the goal is logic and the other thinks that the goal is connection or expression. However we know that we can’t solve any problem without understanding the emotions within the problem. So the best conflict management style allows us to understand each other better through listening to each other’s feelings and ideas.

Myth #7 Negative emotions are bad and should be avoided

This is such an enduring myth which permeates a lot of our lives. We somehow think that we can apply logic to outsmart our emotions but often that makes it worse. We are particularly avoidant of anger. However there is so much to be understood when we lean into our anger and that of our partner. So there is nothing wrong with anger. As long as it’s expressed in a way that doesn’t involve criticism, contempt or defensiveness we should make room for it and be curious.

Myth #8 Nobody can hurt you unless you let them

This emerged years ago. The idea that you have to give someone ‘permission’ to hurt you. The reality is we can get influenced and impacted by our partner’s words. That is part of caring about others.

Unfortunately, the reality is that we do and can hurt one another. All couples do this, even in the case of very happy partnerships. The difference between those that are flourishing and those that are not, is that the conversations are had and hurt is discussed openly. We also offer repairs and express regret.

Myth #9 We have to learn to love ourselves before we love anybody else

I believe this was a sentence in Madonna’s song entitled ‘Secret’. However, the reality is that we don’t love ourselves all the time. We have an evolving relationship with ourselves an our behaviours. So thankfully this isn’t a pre-requisite for having loving relationships. It is important to not to fall into a trap that if the relationship is struggling this could be due to your ‘self esteem’ or how you see yourself. Our work as life partners is to care for each other and to act in loving ways, even in conflict and even when we ourselves don’t feel as loving to ourselves.

Myth #10 To be allowed to have needs we have to justify or explain them

So much of conflict comes from this idea that we don’t have permission to have needs. That we are instrinsically selfish or driven by ‘ego’ if we ask for our needs to be met. This leads us to feel guilty and have an impulse to justify our needs. Instead we want to get more and more familiar with our needs. We don’t have to live independent lives – although many of us have learned to do so – instead it’s ok to rely on others. The danger of not taking responsibility for our needs is that this can lead to resentment when our partner doesn’t meet our needs and fault finding.

Ultimately we want to be part of a tribe and belong. This is how we’ve survived, together. This means that we have and should have needs. Our job is to take responsibility to be able to communicate these. One of the big reasons for conflict is the lack of needs expression. We often want our partners to intrinsically both know and want to meet our needs. We resent having to ask for them. However this sets them up to fail.

The Gottman’s Couples Therapy Model works through conflict management skills and helps individuals develop ways of managing conflict such that It leads to a deepening of our understanding and helps us navigate the conflict with more care and affection.

Find out more by reaching out to one of our couples therapists.