The Conflict Stage: An Inevitable Phase of Every Relationship. Will It Make or Break You Two?
The conflict stage is likely to be a jarring departure from the starry-eyed, lust laden period of the “honeymoon phase.” It can also be a startling one that causes people to feel insecure in their relationships. They might wonder, why have things gotten harder all of a sudden? Why, now, do I actually find them kind of annoying at times? I thought I was in love with them! So maybe now, I’m not anymore. Maybe this means the relationship isn’t a good one after all.
Not so fast.
The conflict stage, contrary to what many people might assume, is an inevitable part of every single relationship. Yes, all relationships will go through it.
Here is the key: either the conflict stage makes you stronger and is one through which you navigate together, or, it chips away at your relationship, exposes all the ways in which it may not work so well after all, and then leads to the end of the relationship.
Let’s pause for a minute, rewind, and start with the fun stuff though.
The Honeymoon Phase: everyone’s favorite part. During this phase, you cannot get enough of your new love. Everything they do sends you into fits of smitten. You want to be around them as much as possible. You hang on their every word. You long to know everything about them. Making out with them is way sexy and erotic. Being in their company still sets your stomach aflutter, your heart racing. Seeing them naked is especially hot and thrilling. When you aren’t in their presence, you are most certainly thinking about and missing them. You’re on your best behavior. You pull out all the romantic stops, from sending flowers to writing love letters, surprising them with a weekend away, sending them a book of poems (or even better, writing them a poem), cooking them dinner, etc.
During the honeymoon phase, you see this person as new and thrilling. They are novel and thus, not someone you yet take for granted.
This is also the period of a relationship when you see one another in your best lights. Some people later scoff and say, “that was all a lie. The real version of him or her came out later on.” Not so. The honeymoon phase is your opportunity to see this person in all their splendor. What you are seeing is the best of that person. Their utmost self is on display. (Unless barring an extreme example like someone is a purposefully lying sociopath).
There is a crucial purpose of the honeymoon phase. It is the part of the relationship when you see the most outstanding of your partner. You are experiencing all the potential that lies within them, and everything they have to offer. The most beautiful and luminous of this person. You see that side of this person, in order to fall in love with them.
Now, onto where it gets prickly.
The Conflict Stage: This is when the sheen starts to rub off the shimmery, shiny surface of your romance. When the rose tint from those glasses starts to fade and is now unflinchingly clear and undoctored.
Here is where it gets important though, so listen up.
No one loves during the honeymoon stage. Not really. We all think we do. Everyone believes (and many even shout it from the rooftops) that they are in love during the honeymoon phase. They aren’t. Here is why: you cannot truly love unless you have seen someone’s darkness and weak traits, along with their strengths and good.
Think about it. It’s easy to love someone’s light. Again, that’s what the honeymoon phase is for. To show us our prospective partner in all their luminosity. But, that isn’t real love. Real love sees everything and chooses to love still. Lust loves with eyes closed shut, or, gaze averted from unpleasantries. Real love does so with eyes wide open. And to do this, one must have experienced and seen the other person’s dark.
So, this is when you might begin to notice the annoying way they chew their food or that weird habit they have of leaving candy wrappers everywhere. It can be when you start to notice that they are late all the time, or that they are particularly difficult to tear away from their work (once they are no longer chomping at the bit to hang out with you, as in the Honeymoon Stage).
This can also be when, in the darker side of things, you discover they can be demanding, or they realize you can be closed-minded. It might be when they see clearly that actually, you are quite lazy, or you see that they can be rigid and uptight.
We all have great traits and not-so-great ones.
We all have strengths and weaknesses.
We each have awesome aspects to us, as well as some unbecoming and even flat out crappy aspects to who we are.
This is part of being human.
To truly love, though, you must have seen all of these in someone, and then to actively choose to love still. This, my friends, is real love.
With regard to the conflict stage, this is when we start seeing those unappealing traits in our lover, and then we have to decide what to do with that. Is this something you can deal with? Or, might it instead be a deal-breaker? (Deal-breakers serve an important purpose. They reveal to us our standards. Keep in mind, however, that having standards that are too low can lead to lesser quality relationships for you. And, having standards that are too stringent can lead to not being able to find someone because you have unrealistic expectations of other human beings).
The conflict stage is also when we might challenge our lover, as in: hey, this thing you do is pretty off-putting and tough for me to handle. It doesn’t feel respectful to me. It upsets me. Can you please try to grow and not do this anymore? The ball is then in your lover’s court. Can they, and do they want to grow for the good of the relationship? Or, do they not want to, or feel unable to? And then, things may not work out.
(Important note: this is not about going into a relationship trying to “change” someone. That rarely works. You should love who they are from the start, not hoping, going into it, to change them. But. Simultaneously. Great relationships also prompt much growth in each other, and part of growth is changing. A good partner does not just accept bad behavior. They challenge you on it, and try to elicit growth from your end).
Thus, two things are happening in the conflict stage:
One: you are finally seeing your partner’s weaknesses, their challenges, their not-so-appealing traits, and maybe even a few outright crappy ones.
Can you deal with these? Do you love them still, even with being introduced to their dark side now? If not, the relationship may be a mismatch and one that it’s time to let go. (Keep in mind: everyone has bad traits. Every single person you date will have them. So, the question isn’t if they have these. It’s, instead, can I deal with this batch of bad traits or no? And, can we work together with and on these as well? Which segues into my next point…)
Two: you and your partner are going to challenge each other and try to elicit growth in one another (or, you should!). And the question here becomes: will each of you choose to rise and meet the challenge? Or, not so much?
Part of loving someone does not mean accepting and putting up with poor behavior. That’s another myth in love. “If someone really loves me, they love me completely as I am.” No. If you are behaving in disrespectful, crappy ways…if your partner has self-esteem and standards? Eventually, they may take a hike. This is part of why many people get stuck in bad relationships for years. Because they accept unhealthy and even bad behavior from the other.
Yes, part of loving someone does mean awareness of their good traits and their bad ones, and still loving them. Absolutely. But. Part of loving someone is also challenging each other. You are prompting one another to grow into the best you can be. This is what great love does. Not in a controlling way. And not in a nitpicking way. But in an honest, kind, though challenging fashion. Part of loving someone is seeing the areas of your partner in which they could most stand to grow and trying to help them in doing so because you love them and think they’re great. Because you see all the potential they have and want to help them get there.
The conflict stage can also refer to contending with and navigating through certain scenarios together. Maybe he is ready to have kids and she isn’t. It could be that she wants to study abroad and he is nervous about the effect this may have on their relationship. It might be that she wants to live in the city while he is ready to go to the country. These can also be part of the conflict stage of a relationship. Navigating life changes and differing goals in such a way that you maintain your relationship, both of you likely having to sacrifice some, be brave, and take some risks.
Another way to think of the conflict stage:
How open to your partner’s influence are you (or not)?
And, how much are you willing to risk, be flexible with, to choose to grow, and to put in the effort to work through challenges together?
(Note: being open to your partner’s influence is not to be confused with doing everything they say and want, and ever yielding to your partner. Not so. Being open to influence means assuming they have your best interest (as well as, the best interest of the relationship) at heart and considering strongly their viewpoint, thoughts, as well as their needs. Both, for your own growth, and for the greater good of the relationship, as well as, for their happiness and growth too. You can still say no to your partner sometimes and be open to their influence too).
One final way of considering the conflict stage: this is likely when the effort you put into the love affair begins to take a bit of a nosedive. You may start to take your love for granted during this time. You aren’t quaking with thrill to see them again. Instead, sure, it makes you happy seeing them, though it isn’t something laden with anticipation. Sex may fall off somewhat during this stage because, while you still quite enjoy it with them, you also aren’t raring to rip their clothes off anymore. It’s become, somewhat, expected and routine. You know what their body looks like now and what being physical with them feels like.
You likely do not take the time to do as many (if any) romantic gestures anymore, other than for the expected ones (holidays, birthday, and anniversary). No more random flowers, no more sweet surprises out of the blue, no more hand-written love letter (too much effort), no waking them up with breakfast in bed, or random massages, or a surprise visit to the museum you know they’ll love.
Maybe now you start burping or farting frequently in front of your partner, not as concerned with what they think of you. They already love you, so it’s all good, right? You may find that other things, now, are coming back into focus (where prior, your love was your main focus). Now, work is drawing your attention more. Chores to do. Seeing other friends sometimes again. You get the idea.
Sometimes when they talk, you might find yourself tuning out. It feels like you already know them now, so there doesn’t feel like as much to ask them about. (Psssst. This is always a misconception. You never know your love nearly as well as you think. They are always thinking things you don’t know about, they are growing and changing every single day, they are forming new opinions and interests, they have different feelings each day about life, etc).
You have to be careful with this situation. Because, if and when you start to drastically alter the amount of thought and effort you put into showing this person you love and cherish them? This can eventually cause your partner to feel…taken for granted…disenchanted by the relationship…lonely…not as drawn toward you and ultimately, less invested themselves.
Great relationships require consistent tending, thought, and effort. When this ceases? The relationship can wither, suffer, and could potentially even end.
What happens in the conflict stage will determine the fate of the relationship. Whether it will move into the final stage (commitment) or not.
Part of this is determined by: do you hear your partner during the conflict stage, really hear them, and then rise to the occasion?
And, do you still see this person as exciting, interesting, and someone deeply special to you (and, do your actions make this obvious)?
If not for both of these, an ending may be in sight. Or, if not an ending, a somewhat unhappy, resigned relationship then.
The conflict period of a relationship is often the most drawn-out stage of the three. And sometimes, over the lifetime of a relationship, we revisit the conflict stage, depending on what comes up in the relationship.
The conflict stage can be considered a kind of negotiation as well.
How flexible can you be? How important is this relationship to you over the big picture? How much are you willing to grow? Are you willing to sacrifice now in order to keep the relationship over the long-term? Questions like these can be themes during this stage.
If you navigate through the conflict stage together and manage to do so with your relationship intact and your love still present, this is where the final stage comes in: Commitment.
This is when your relationship, having moved through and worked on significant challenges together, grows deeper roots. Ones that attach and entwine you more closely to one another.
Commitment is the stage that feels like low burning coals in a fireplace. A warm, contented, safe, cozy feeling. This is when you come to feel more secure and confident about your bond. That you are deeply committed to one another and are going to do everything you can to make things work between you two. Both of you, feeling more assured of this. Commitment is a more steadfast feeling of assurance about one another.
In order to get to this stage though, you must weather those choppy waves of the conflict phase together, side by side, with oars in hand and much love and effort in both your hearts.