Conflict is an inevitable part of every relationship. Despite what many people seem to think, some amount of conflict in a relationship is actually a good thing. It means that you’re comfortable enough with your partner to express disapproval or disagreement. Oftentimes, it means that problems are being exposed and addressed, instead of buried under layers of denial and guilt.
Now, when I say that conflict is healthy, I’m talking about respectful disagreement devoid of physical and emotional violence. I’m not saying that you should run into the next room and instigate a screaming match with your partner, nor am I saying that it’s okay to bully or belittle your partner to get what you want. I’m simply saying that conflict is an inevitable part of any relationship, and that it can actually be productive—if it’s dealt with in a healthy, responsible way.
Therein lies the problem—there are lots of people out there who don’t know how to handle conflict in a healthy, responsible way. Human beings have a tendency to retreat from conflict, or avoid it altogether. When we’re forced into a confrontation, we instinctively rush to defend ourselves, which can make it difficult to see the ways in which we might be at fault.
All of these problems are compounded when you’re in a long-distance relationship. In fact, learning how to navigate conflict in a healthy, responsible way is one of the most difficult parts of being in a long-distance relationship.
There are three reasons for this:
First, communication is more permanent. The things you say in a text message or an e-mail can never be taken back. If you write something you regret, you partner has the option of reading it over and over and over again.
Second, mistakes are harder to correct. If you’re arguing over the phone and you hang up in the heat of the moment, there’s a good chance you’ll be spending the next two days talking to their voicemail and trying to stifle your overactive imagination.
Third, physical contact is a key component of reconciliation. People tend to forget or underestimate the role that physical communication plays when we apologize to one another. When you’re in a long-distance relationship, you can say that you’re sorry, but you can’t show that you’re sorry. If you’re not careful, the lack of physical contact can prolong conflict.
There’s no doubt about it—these additional obstacles can create additional complications for long-distance relationships. That said, it is possible for long-distance couples to handle their disagreements in a healthy way.
In fact, in terms of our ability as a couple to address conflict, my girlfriend’s decision to study abroad for a semester has actually been a very positive thing. It’s forced both us to develop stronger communication skills. Before, when we were living together, we’d use body language and vocal cues to drop hints when one of us was upset.
The long-distance nature of our relationship makes that type of behavior difficult. It’s almost impossible to be passive-aggressive when you’re communicating via Skype and international calling cards. Her decision to spend the semester abroad has literally forced us to learn how to have open, respectful disagreements with one another. In some ways, I’m more comfortable with her than I was when she originally left.
The important thing to remember when you’re in a long-distance relationship and you’re fighting with your partner is that, at the end of the day, the two of you genuinely care about one another. Yes, you’re angry—but you still love the person you’re angry with. Whatever your partner has done to upset you, you’ve already decided that they’re worth the pain and aggravation of a long-distance relationship, so try not to sweat the small stuff.
About the Guest Author: Andrei Andrei Milosevic is an international student, traveler, and writer. Over the past few years, he has been studying international business and providing advice and insight into international calling cards. In his free time he kayaks and Skypes with his best friend back home in Serbia. We are very appreciative for Andrei contribution to SM and wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors.