Conflict with Your Partner: Can It Be Positive?

Conflict with Your Partner

Stop and think for a moment. Can you name three things about your partner that drive you a little crazy? Not big things, like alcoholism, financial irresponsibility, or emotional infidelity, but little things, like constantly being late, not listening, or being unnecessarily impatient. When small conflicts like these are ongoing, they can work themselves into the fabric of a relationship, building resentment and animosity for one or both partners.


Ongoing friction like this is what often leads people to counseling, and the motivation for seeking help, more often than not, starts from a place of blame. We see a problem and someone’s got to be responsible for it. It seems only natural that we would point a finger at our partner when things have gotten so tense. After all, they are the only other person in the relationship, so it has to be their fault that things have gotten so out of hand, doesn’t it? Or does it?

The role of attraction

We are attracted to people for any number of reasons. It might be their sense of humor, or their looks, their way with people, or maybe just that indefinable something that we can never quite put our finger on. The thing is that, along with all those positives comes the other side of things; not necessarily negatives, but more those things that are hidden from view. Conflict between partners comes not from a problem with our partner as we’d like to believe, but from an unresolved conflict inside us with ourselves that our partner is reflecting. Since that inner conflict is hidden from us, we don’t know it’s happening and end up looking for someone else to blame for our discomfort.


Let’s say your partner leaves the cabinet doors open and that really annoys you. Ask yourself this: would I be annoyed with myself if I left the cabinet doors open? Chances are you would. What we are annoyed or triggered by in our partners is also a place we do not have tolerance for in ourselves. Our partners can show us where we need to grow self- love and acceptance for ourselves. The cool thing about this is that we have the power to shift our own discomfort.

Realization – you make you feel what you’re feeling

The realization that the problems we perceive in our relationship and with our partner are more about us than they are about them is actually a good thing because that means we have the power to heal it and not be victims.  It doesn’t mean there is something wrong with us; it means our partner is a catalyst for our positive growth. It also doesn’t mean our partner gets a free pass and it’s all on us. It means the dynamic of the relationship as we see it has shifted, and given us the opportunity to explore our own unconsciousness and foster a more intimate and fulfilling relationship with self and other.


The next time you react negatively or hostilely toward your partner, try and keep one very important notion in mind: they can’t make you feel what you’re feeling—you make you feel what you’re feeling. When things come up, take a moment to breathe, look inside and ask yourself if you would be compassionate toward yourself for what your partner might be doing, rather than focusing on what you feel they are doing to you. Unless your partner is an uncaring sociopath, they are not doing something to intentionally hurt you. This is the starting point for diffusing those ongoing irritations and bringing both you and your relationship to a whole new level of connection, consciousness and understanding.

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Dr. Dori Gatter
Counselor, PsyD
Dr. Dori Gatter earned her Psy.D. from The Graduate Theological Foundation. She earned her M.A. in Counseling Psychology from Antioch University in New Hampshire and her BA in Psychology from Lesley College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor and a graduate of the Hartford Family Institute’s Body-Centered Gestalt Professional Training Program. She has additional training in Imago Relationship Therapy and has co-authored two books, including a children’s book that teaches children how to relate to their emotions. Dori runs workshops and speaks about transformation and relationships. She has been interviewed on NBC Channel 30 News.

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