Tips for Thought

The Rollercoaster of Emotion in Couple Conflicts

Emotions are integral to human nature and significantly influence our interpersonal relationships. When it comes to couples, conflicts can evoke a wide array of emotions, ranging from anger and frustration to sadness and vulnerability. Understanding these emotions is crucial for fostering healthy communication and resolving conflicts positively. 

Let’s take a look at this example…

Meet Alex and Sarah, a couple in their early thirties who have been together for five years. Lately, they have been arguing frequently over the division of household chores. Sarah feels overwhelmed with her responsibilities at work and believes Alex should contribute more to the household chores. On the other hand, Alex feels that his workload at the office is equally demanding and thinks Sarah is overreacting.

What are the common emotions that arise during a couple’s fight?

    • Anger

Anger often becomes the initial emotional response when a couple engages in a heated argument. Anger can stem from various triggers, such as feeling unheard, misunderstood, or unappreciated. It’s good to recognize that anger itself is not negative; it’s a natural emotion that arises in response to perceived threats or injustices. However, uncontrolled anger can be destructive to the relationship, making it essential to communicate anger respectfully.

    • Frustration

Frustration usually follows closely behind anger. When couples feel unable to resolve their differences, they may experience a sense of helplessness and frustration. This emotion can lead to impatience and a desire to give up on finding a resolution. Couples must recognize that frustration is a sign that their needs aren’t being met, and seeking compromise and empathy can help break through this impasse.

    • Sadness

Beneath the surface of anger and frustration, there often lies a deep well of sadness. Conflicts can trigger feelings of hurt, disappointment, or rejection. Recognizing and acknowledging these underlying emotions is essential for both partners. When sadness is expressed openly, it can pave the way for healing and emotional connection.

    • Fear

Conflicts can instill a sense of fear in couples, especially when they start questioning the stability of their relationship. Fear of rejection, abandonment, or losing the connection with their partner may arise during fights. This fear can cause individuals to act defensively or withdraw, hindering conflict resolution. Acknowledging and discussing these fears can help partners address their insecurities and work towards strengthening their bond.

    • Defensiveness

Defensiveness is a natural response when we feel attacked or criticized. During a couple’s fight, both partners might resort to defensive behaviors to protect themselves from emotional harm. However, being defensive can hinder open communication and prevent the resolution of conflicts. Cultivating a safe and non-judgmental space for sharing emotions can encourage vulnerability and understanding.

    • Vulnerability

Behind all the anger, frustration, and defensiveness lies vulnerability. Sharing vulnerable emotions requires courage but can also lead to profound emotional intimacy and connection. When partners express vulnerability, it allows them to understand each other’s needs and feelings better, fostering empathy and compassion.

Embracing Emotions

How couples express their emotions can greatly impact the outcome of the conflict. For example, suppose a couple expresses their anger in a destructive way, such as by yelling or name-calling. In that case, it is more likely that the conflict will escalate and become worse. However, suppose a couple can express their emotions in a constructive way, such as by talking about their feelings in a calm and respectful manner. In that case, it is more likely that the conflict will be resolved positively.

If you are in a relationship and struggling with conflict, there are a few things you can do to help manage your emotions and healthily resolve the dispute. These include:

  • Take some time to cool down. If you are angry or upset, it is practical to take some time before you try to talk to your partner. This will help you avoid saying or doing something you regret later.
  • Try to understand your partner’s perspective. It is important to understand your partner’s perspective on the issue causing the conflict. This will help you to see the situation from their point of view and to find a solution that works for both of you.
  • Be willing to compromise. To resolve a conflict, it is often necessary to be ready to compromise. This means being willing to give up something you want to reach a solution that works for both of you.

If you are struggling to manage your emotions or healthily resolve conflict, it may be helpful to talk to a therapist or counselor. And here are some additional tips for managing emotions during a couple’s fight: 

  • Take a break. If you are feeling overwhelmed, take a break from the argument and come back to it later when you have had a chance to calm down.
  • Focus on the issue, not the person. It is important to stay focused on the problem causing the conflict, not on the person instigating it.
  • Apologize if you need to. If you say or do something that you regret, apologize to your partner.
  • Be willing to forgive. If your partner apologizes to you, be ready to pardon them.

Going back to Alex and Sarah…

Instead of falling into the usual escalating argument pattern, Alex and Sarah can try to practice “active listening” to handle the conflict more effectively. When discussing the issue of household chores, they should take turns expressing their thoughts and feelings while the other listens attentively without interrupting or judging. In this approach, Sarah can start by saying, “I feel overwhelmed with the household chores and could use some help. It’s not that I don’t appreciate what you do, but it would mean a lot to me if we could find a way to share the responsibilities.” Alex can then respond with active listening, saying, “I hear you, and I understand that you’re feeling overwhelmed. I didn’t realize how much it was affecting you. I also feel stressed at work but want to find a solution for both of us.”

And that’s one way to go about it. Remember, conflict is a normal part of any relationship. However, how couples handle conflict can have a big impact on the health of their relationship.