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When Conflict Gets Dangerous

When Conflict Gets DangerousAll couples fight. It’s perfectly healthy and normal. Disagreements are a natural part of relationships, and even if you’re deeply in love, some level of conflict is inevitable. In fact, avoiding conflict does more harm than good. Letting anger and resentment build up is a surefire recipe for trouble.

However, constant arguing can be a red flag that there’s something deeper going on — especially if the same sorts of issues keep rearing their heads. Don’t ignore them. You need to take action — and the sooner, the better.

Often, arguments are the result of pent-up frustrations over feeling like you’re not being heard, understood, or appreciated. A dangerous thing to do in these situations is to start with an accusation, such as “you never listen to me!” People often criticize as a way of expressing their needs. Try couching your language in terms of how you feel, rather than going on the attack.

One way of doing this is to begin a statement with “I” instead of “you:” “I feel ignored sometimes, and this makes me feel frustrated and unhappy.” Encourage your partner to respond with their feelings in return. Opening up a dialogue in this way will lead to far greater understanding and willingness to find a solution on both parts.

Avoid placing blame. Blame will only result in your partner becoming defensive. There may be times when the argument you both thought you were having was in fact about something else entirely — something much deeper. This is a valuable discovery, and one that you’ll never make if you’re both playing the blame game.

Keep your attitude and your words nonconfrontational, and you’ll get to the root of an issue much faster.

Just listening and attuning yourself to your partner’s state of mind can help uncover issues that might be bubbling below the surface early on. Some people are less forthcoming, and you may have to make more of an effort to get them to speak out.

Pay attention to clues such as one-word answers, subdued or forced tone of voice, or refusal to make eye contact. If you sense that something is bothering your partner, initiate a conversation. It’s important not to let things escalate. Choose your words and your timing carefully.

Simply expressing your desire to listen can encourage your partner to open up. Let him or her speak freely, without interruption. Then you can embark on the next step — resolution — together.

If butting heads seems to delineate the differences between you more starkly than you’d like, remember the things you both love. Focusing on common ground can be a valuable base point when stuck in a quarrelsome rut. Which interests or pursuits do you share? What makes you both laugh? What dreams do you both hold dear? Make the time to reconnect over these things. It’ll help you regain some much-needed clarity and perspective — especially if your disagreements tend to revolve around trivialities.

Conflict is inevitable; what’s important is how you approach it. Have a conversation with your partner in which you lay down certain ground rules outlining how you will approach conflicts and resolve them when they arise. They can be as simple as not going to bed angry or saying one positive for every negative. Setting boundaries and agreeing to keep the discussion confined within the limits of the issue will prevent you both resorting to insults or attacks.

If one or both of you oversteps these boundaries, keep your head. Remind your partner gently but firmly of your agreement. This encourages you both to take a step back, and adopt a calmer, more productive approach.

When you’re getting into an argument, it’s easy for your perception to devolve into a “me vs. you” mentality. But remember that you and your partner are a team. He or she is your friend, not your enemy. Approaching conflict with an attitude of cooperation, rather than opposition, can shift your perspective dramatically. If you’re on the same team, it doesn’t matter who wins.

Ultimately, it’s not conflict you should be worried about. It’s the neverending cycle of frustration and blame that will eventually wear you both down. If you’ve tried all of the above, and nothing seems to be working, then seeking help from a trained couples therapist may well be the answer.

If you’re willing to listen, to empathize, and to forgive, then even the most bitter of fights can have a happy ending. Without the catalyst of conflict, those deep, unspoken issues that poison a relationship may never come to light. Accept them, and treat them as a constructive, rather than dangerous force. It may be the best thing you can do for your relationship.

When Conflict Gets Dangerous

Harriet Pappenheim, LCSW

Harriet Pappenheim, LCSW, BCD, has over 30 years’ experience in relationship and couples therapy, helping couples and individuals find a deeper content and personal fulfillment in their relationships. She is a founding therapist of Park Avenue Relationship Consultants (PARC), a group of expertly trained clinicians based in NYC, specializing in couples therapy, family therapy and marriage counseling. Harriet is the author of For Richer For Poorer: Keeping Your Marriage Happy When She’s Making More Money. She has also been featured on national radio, Good Morning America and the Today Show. Harriet can be reached by calling 212.289.0295 or through the PARC website.

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APA Reference
Pappenheim, H. (2018). When Conflict Gets Dangerous. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 21 Oct 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.