Couples following Oscar Wilde’s advice that “women are meant to be loved, not to be understood” could be missing a trick. OK, so you can substitute ‘men’ or ‘partners’ in place of ‘women’ to make Wilde’s quote relevant to your own relationship. But the point is that just loving someone isn’t always enough for a successful, enduring relationship – especially when it comes to managing conflict.
This concept is highlighted in a Quartz article on how to make conflicts in relationships healthy. It draws on a study from the University of California at Berkeley, ‘Do you get where I’m coming from?’ that examines the perception of being understood in the context of relationship conflict. Researchers Amie M. Gordon and Serena Chen carried out seven studies to test “whether conflict in close relationships is only detrimental when people do not feel their thoughts, feelings, and point-of-view are understood by their relationship partners”.
Conflicts can become toxic when partners descend into behaviours such as blaming, withdrawing, making the other party feel guilty, or dragging up past misdemeanours and misunderstandings. The antidote to that toxicity is understanding your partner – and showing him or her that you understand, even while you’re disagreeing.
Gordon and Chen concluded: “Feeling understood during conflict may buffer against reduced relationship satisfaction in part because it strengthens the relationship and signals that one’s partner is invested. Overall, these studies suggest that perceived understanding may be a critical buffer against the potentially detrimental effects of relationship conflict.”
From the perspective of a couples counsellor, this research has huge resonance. Couples often come to therapy with both partners holding an entrenched position: that to compromise would mean ‘giving in’. They’re both holding out for the other person to change.
I find that the process of couples counselling is to help partners understand where the other is coming from. In other words, to ‘get’ each other. This may mean appreciating that one is an introvert, the other an extrovert. One may need closeness, the other may need more time alone. One may need to do all the planning, the other prefers to ‘wing it’. Neither is right or wrong. They are individuals in a relationship. Both, ideally, just need to be understood.
Couples counselling can facilitate that understanding so couples can be kinder to each other, for who they are and how they respond.
If you can identify patterns of conflict within your relationship that you’d like to resolve, and if you feel you’d like to try couples counselling, call Karen on 07956 823501, or email firstname.lastname@example.org to book an appointment.