Peace or Ceasefire? Surviving the Trenches in Your Relationship

by | Jan 5, 2024

Take a break from a fight without creating a new conflict

If you’ve ever been (or maybe currently are) in a relationship with frequent conflict or fighting, you’re likely already familiar with the different ways that problems or issues can be “resolved” – and the different feelings and emotions these types of resolution can bring. 

While every relationship is different and dynamics can frequently shift, even over the course of a day, in my practice with many types of couples I’ve noticed themes or tendencies that conflict resolutions tend to take. It can be helpful to think about these varied resolution types as being analogous to either a peace treaty or a temporary ceasefire. 

Think about the differences inherent in both of those agreements – in a legal sense there are a host of differentiations, but for this exercise, let’s define peace treaties as “a negotiated resolution or remediation of issues driving the conflict”, and we can refer to a ceasefire as being “a negotiated pause of hostilities”. When defined like this, it’s clearly evident which option most couples would select to end a conflict with, given the choice! 

Unfortunately in the real world of relationships, ceasefires are selected due to factors like: exhaustion with the topic, events or activities interrupting the discussion, or simply miscommunication. While interruptions are oftentimes inevitable and sometimes people do simply need a break, miscommunication in the aftermath of a relationship conflict can be damaging, making it important to handle these situations with care.

If communication isn’t clear, this can easily lead Partner A to believe that the issue has been resolved (peace treaty) while Partner B believes that the topic has simply been tabled for another time (ceasefire). Consequently, when the partner who perceives a ceasefire looks to reopen the discussion, Partner A can, quite understandably, feel like the treaty has been broken. When these feelings occur, not only is the engagement less likely to end in a satisfactory way for both partners, but also can cause trust issues to develop – all over a misunderstanding that can in many cases be avoided. 

Stopping the Conflict

The key to avoiding this trap is to communicate clearly and understandably when emotions are heightened. Regardless of the reason for the discussion ending, especially if you’re the one initiating the end, it’s a good idea to ask your partner something like “I feel as though we’ve resolved this problem – do you feel similarly or do we need to return to this at a later time?” 

Even when the answer seems very obvious, asking questions like this serves two purposes: 

  1. Avoiding misunderstanding. 
  2. Reassuring your partner that even after a conflict, your concern and caring for them has remained unchanged and you remain committed to fixing whatever issues exist between the two of you. 

About the Author

Headshot of Pete Campie, LMFTPete Campie, LMFT, C-DBT sees individuals, couples and families in Cedar Rapids, IA or online. He offers early morning or daytime appointments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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