If you are a new couple (i.e., newly dating, engaged or married), and you have an awareness that relational conflict is a part of life, it can be desirable to try to find ways to prepare for those future conflicts. Nobody likes pain, and so if we can do things now to reduce future pain, that is appealing. I do think that we can do growing in the present that does positively impact our future conflicts. However, where we can get into trouble is when we focus primarily on trying to somehow prevent or avoid future conflicts–that actually ends up “feeding” our fears rather than helping us build the muscles we need for navigating conflict constructively.
What I encourage couples to do is to start paying attention to the “micro-conflicts” in their present–the little things that maybe seem so small that they’ve not even mentioned them to each other, but which do bother one or the other (or both) of them. Building the mental and emotional muscles of tuning into (and thus not ignoring, as we can be prone to doing) the little things helps us better understand how we currently handle things that bother us, and helps us move towards learning to address the things that we do need to address (in ourselves and in our relationship). This can feel a little uncomfortable at first because it can feel appealing to minimize small irritations, disappointments, etc., but that habit of minimizing tends to grow to include things of greater and greater importance (which then leads to feelings of bitterness, resentment, etc.). Thus, using the little things to practice engaging our disappointments, etc., and exploring how we might talk about those with our partner, is a necessary prerequisite to being able to navigate more significant conflicts in the future.
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