I want to share a great article I read this morning, "Are You With the Right Mate? " by Rebecca Webber (Psychology Today Online).
(This photo is from the article, linked above)
The article addresses (and seeks to dispel) the notion, common among people who are disillusioned with their marriages, that partners are just married to the "wrong person." Instead, the author suggests, doubting partners need to recognize that one can only change one's self and that one is responsible for making one's own happiness. This does not mean that disillusioned partners should leave their relationship. Rather, it means they should take more responsibility for creating a better relationship, by throwing themselves into it in a positive, healthy way: "Marriage is not about finding the right person. It's about becoming the right person."
This is not to say one should fail to be true to one's self or remain in a very damaging relationship. The article candidly discusses some make-it-or-break-it issues that can irreparably damage a relationship. These include substance abuse, serial infidelity, abuse of power, and other pathologies. But assuming a malaise less serious, when perhaps the main issue is the fading of an initial romance, the issue becomes more, how to change and grow the relationship so that it feels more comfortable in the new circumstance.
For the relationship to grow in depth requires that one make one's self vulnerable to the Other and to be open to transformation in the way one sees and does things:
Disillusionment becomes an engine for growth because it forces us to discover our needs. Knowing oneself, recognizing one's needs, and speaking up for them in a relationship are often acts of bravery, says Page. Most of us are guarded about our needs, because they are typically our areas of greatest sensitivity and vulnerability.
The response of one's partner when one reveals this vulnerable spot can be the "make it or break it" point in the relationship. If an intimate partner fails to respond with compassion or empathy, the relationship can be severely damaged, especially over time as intimacy is lost:
In other words, the inability or unwillingness to suppress negative emotions in the heat of the moment eliminates the possibility of a transformation of motivation to a broader perspective than one's own [emphasis supplied]. Eventually, the cumulative impact of negative reactivity brings the relationship down.
These transformations and conversations involve our deepest sense of self and being. Sharing those deepest requires one to become vulnerable. If a partner cannot transform their view of the relationship to accommodate change, intimacy is lost.
In the end, the article discusses explicitly the necessity of being able to communicate feelings or view that may be negative, but to do so in ways that do not harm our partner:
The art to speaking up, he says, is to transform a complaint into a request. Not "I don't like how you're talking to me," but "Can you please lower your voice so I can hear you better?" If you're trying to get what you want in a relationship, notes Real, it's best to keep it positive and future-focused.
While this article is not specifically about conflict transformation, it clearly points to the importance of conflict transformation skill as a necessary tool for survival of a long term relationship. In every relationship, partners will grow and change. In a long term relationship, viewpoints and needs will change over time. If the relationship is to survive these personal transformations, both partners will need to adapt to one another on a continual basis. Each individual must be able and willing to transform their narrative to encompass not only who they have become, but also the new "other" that their partner has become.
Finally, the article is worth reading if for no other reason but for the great photos of two very mismatched partners. Click on the link to see the photos: