Many intimate partners erroneously believe that their love will always triumph no matter how many negative interactions they may have in the moment. They assume that, whatever harmful damage they may do while battling, they will always be able to find their way back to the love they knew.
Sadly, for most lovers, that is not the way it happens. If their angry interactions increase in intensity, frequency, and duration, they may be unknowingly risking their relationship’s capability to regenerate.
All intimate partners, no matter how deeply they are committed to harmony, are capable of saying mean-spirited, harmful things to each other when threatened or frustrated. Also, many negative interactions recur because they are not adequately resolved. Those, in particular, leave emotional entrails behind that combine with current upset. The succeeding arguments often emerge with renewed vigor and more damage. Even if a couple is superb at reconciliation, too many of these painful conflicts can ultimately destroy even the most devoted of lovers.
In my forty plus years of working with the partners in committed relationships, I have witnessed literally thousands of disruptive and damaging arguments. Even those who still care deeply for one another can lash out in astonishingly hateful ways, seemingly absolutely unaware of the potentially un-healable damage they may be doing to their relationship.
Because I am also with them when they are not arguing, I know that their love is still intact underneath their anger. Yet, I know that affection will disappear when the next disagreement emerges. Their current bond of loving attachment will be sadly replaced by animosity and adversity.
Love that still exists underneath enemy fire can only hold for some period of time. The more time any couple spends in embattlement, the harder it will be for them to find their way back to the love they once knew and still take for granted.
Constant negative interactions take their toll on all relationships. A loving partnership that was once heavily weighted in the direction of harmony will eventually become one that is easier to wound and harder to heal.
I can tell how far a couple has ventured into this potentially irreversible heartbreak by stopping them in the process of an argument and then asking them, in that moment, to assess the level of love they feel towards each other.
At first, many cannot even get in touch with those underlying attachments. They cannot calm down enough to even think or feel anything else. I tell them that their relationship depends on their knowing that love is still there, even in the midst of their current animosity.
The amount of difficulty the couple has in letting go of their adversarial interaction when I give them that task, provides the information I need to assess how much trouble they are in and what they have to do to heal.
Lasting and meaningful love is like a symbolic child between romantic partners. It is a representation of the innocence and resilience that exists in every new love relationship. When intimate partners continuously and irresponsibly hurt one another, it is the same as sacrificing that “emotional child” in order to preserve self over the other. Enough unconscious battering will ultimately destroy the chances of that initial, seemingly guaranteed healing to remain viable.
Because of this looming danger, it is crucially important that both partners realize that they are risking that resiliency with every harsh word and gesture expressed. They must understand that any love, no matter how beautiful, will be unable to survive the consistent and continuous undermining that embattlement creates.
To help couples accurately assess how close they are to losing their capacity to regenerate, I have developed the following test. I ask both partners to take the test and then to compare answers. That helps them to see if they are on the same page.
Scoring Your Love/Conflict Resiliency
Take the following test to measure how resilient your love is during conflict. There are ten questions. Score your responses from one to five using the formula below:
1 - Right away
2 – Soon
3 – In a short time
4 – Much later
5 – Never
1. When you realize that your conflict is harming your partner, how soon do you stop? ___
2. If your partner tells you he or she needs to stop fighting, when do you let go of your need to win? ___
3. When a conflict is over, how soon do you attempt to resolve what happened? ___
4. How long does it take you to be accountable for your own part in the fight? ___
5. If you feel that your love for him or her is under fire, when do you tell your partner to stop hurting you? ___
6. If you are fearful that you are fighting too much, when do you talk to your partner about your thoughts and feelings? ___
7. When do you feel able to tell your partner that the fights are destroying your ability to reconnect the way you used to? ___
8. If you know that your emotions are getting out of hand and may be causing irreparable harm to your partner, when do you get them under control? ___
9. During or after a conflict, when can you tell you’re partner that you still love him or her? ___
10. During or after a conflict, when can your partner tell you that he or she still loves you? ___
Add up your scores.
1 – 10 Your love is still intact and your partner cares more about you than needing to win.
11 – 20 You are starting to waver in remembering that there is someone on the other end of you who is suffering your anger.
12 – 30 Your conflicts are beginning to get the best of your relationship and are starting to cause more harm than the relationship may ultimately be able to bear.
31 – 40 You’re dangerously close to erasing what devotion you have to each other and it is getting more difficult to find the love you once counted upon.
41 – 50 If you don’t do something about your negative interactions, you will no longer be able to ever love each other the same way again.
All couples disagree at times but conflicts can be productive or destructive. Learning how to find a common truth through debate and differences can make any relationship more interesting and exciting. But, that is only true if love is strong enough to remain sacred during embattlement. If intimate partners fail to remember how much they care while they are fighting, they may be unwittingly putting their love resilience in danger. Once they know where they stand, they can renew their commitment to a more harmonious connection.