You know what’s worse for a relationship than fighting all the time? Not fighting all the time.
There is productive conflict and unproductive conflict — sometimes good, sometimes bad. But the complete absence of conflict in a relationship is always a problem.
Obviously, I’m not talking about new relationships in the honeymoon phase of unicorn rides through the pink cloud forest. No, by all means, sop that up with a biscuit and cherish every moment. But that magical, “everything is easier with you” shit is gonna dry up sooner or later.
And when you realize you’re just two flawed human beings trying to make sense of this life in a Sisyphean attempt to establish certainty in a universe where the second law of thermodynamics guarantees ever-increasing disorder, you’re gonna have to reevaluate your definition of love.
People say love heals all wounds, love will conquer it all, love is all you need. But with all due respect to the fine, anxiously attached folks who pen such platitudes, that shit is all rubbish and poppycock designed to sell tattoos, false hope, and R&B records.
After the Honeymoon
After the swooning fizzles out, you’ve got a few options…
The low-hanging fruit is to run away and go recreate heaven on earth with someone else for a few months, then rinse and repeat. Certainly a fun ride, but it’s only a matter of time before you realize you’re crushing people up and snorting them like ecstasy pills. The cognitive dissonance created by such behavior can fuel all kinds of self-defeating habits. It’s truly corrosive.
Many of these runners are terrified of intimacy because of unresolved relational trauma or some kind of damaged relationship with themselves. Whatever the case, not talking about it is a problem.
You can be a “nice guy” or a “good girl,” a self-sacrificing peacemaker, fixer, helper, don’t-rock-the-boater. Surely your unwavering agreeableness can keep this thing afloat, yeah? The main problem with pathological niceness and chronic compliance, however, is the soul-crushing self-abandonment it requires.
In order to be in a relationship, you have to have a self. Which explains why self-abandonment always feels like loneliness and cannot fail to destroy any attempt at partnership. This is the original hand grenade made of silence — stuffing your feelings, wants, needs, and opinions for the sake of preserving a relationship that cannot exist in the absence of your authenticity.
The next easy option is to weaponize all the magical moments of early dating by turning them into unrealistic expectations and rigid ideas of who you wish your partner was. This produces a lifetime supply of “You ain’t actin right” arguments that generally go nowhere besides more resentment of either the verbal or nonverbal variety.
This is where we often see “conversational silence,” which is a way of saying a whole bunch of shit without actually saying anything. An emotional filibuster of sorts. But here, again, what’s being said is not nearly as destructive as what no one wants to talk about.
Perhaps the most common relationship strategy is to just go along to get along. Unspoken expectations, covert contracts, mutual insecurity, societal and familial pressures — all kinds of silent sabotage. This is usually the “stay together for the kids” camp.
These people may have the greatest opportunity to inject some substance into the banality of routine-bred comfort by having some vulnerable conversations. Yet, the risk of losing something “good enough” to take a shot at greatness is a gamble too rich for most people’s blood. This one’s got a slow-burning fuse made of good intentions, and by the time the bomb detonates, no one can even recall who pulled the pin.
The Vulnerable Ones
After all the “Look what I can do!” of courtship dies down, you are tasked with the seemingly unrewarding job of actually getting to know your partner. Deeply. This is where you peek behind the curtain and find out how the magic trick works and it ain’t so magical anymore. It’s sobering, humbling, and decidedly not as sexy or exciting as it once was (hence the runners and hostage-takers).
You find out about your partner’s fears, peeves, quirks, and challenges. You see all the bumps and scars. They’re dirty under the light. And the raw humanity of authentic connection disrupts many a preconceived notion of how your pretty little life was supposed to work out. Worst of all, you come face to face with your own glaring imperfections and the unpleasant dilemma of either taking responsibility for them or blaming someone else.
The bravest among us choose radical responsibility. We refuse to blame, shame, judge and criticize. Instead of projecting our healing fantasy onto a partner whose job was never to “make us whole,” we discover the neglected parts of ourselves in the reflection of another human soul. And we tend to them with all the love and care we would want someone else to treat us with.
I’ve never seen this done in silence.
What Choice Do You Have?
Truth be told, the vast majority of people are not consciously choosing between any of the above “options.” Destructive habits are largely compulsive responses to relational and developmental trauma, deeply rooted fears, and skewed core beliefs about human relationships.
Sure, many people simply never learned how to cultivate healthy and loving relationships because it was never modeled for them. Operating in complete ignorance generally doesn’t produce wonderful results. However, the most compulsive, harmful, repetitive, seemingly self-sabotaging relationship patterns tend to come from the experience of not feeling safe. Codependency, avoidance, sex addiction, ghosting — anything you can think of. It’s all trauma response behavior, rooted in the powerless sensations of insecurity.
If I don’t feel safe, I’m doing lizard brain shit all day. Try and stop me. Your logic and your reasoning are no match for my terrified inner child and dysregulated nervous system. Therefore, the only thing anyone can do to heal any of their terrible habits is to create more safety in their life. There are many ways to go about that, for sure, but creating embodied feelings of safety is the only way out of this mess.
How To Feel Safe In Your Own Skin
I’ve previously written about the boundaries–needs–connection trifecta of safety. You’ve definitely gotta cultivate health and wholeness in all three areas in order to feel competent enough to exist. But one must also work at releasing toxic shame, which is by far the number one bar to all personal development.
Easier said than done, no doubt. But definitely possible. I highly recommend working with a trauma-informed coach or therapist. If these are cost-prohibitive, join a free twelve-step fellowship like CoDA or ACA, which specializes in recovery from family dysfunction in order to achieve healthy and loving relationships.
When you make a daily practice of cultivating safe, authentic connections, setting appropriate boundaries, and satisfying your needs in healthy ways, your life will become a delightful place to live. Under such circumstances, you won’t be inclined to roll a hand grenade made of trauma responses, fear, and silent obstinance into the center of your relationships and watch it rip you both apart.
People often say that poor communication is the number one cause of failed relationships. There is truth in that. But if you peel back another layer, you’ll discover fear of communication, rooted in not feeling safe. And underneath that, you inevitably find unresolved trauma.
We gotta heal, y’all.