How Angry Conflict Can Lead to Deeper Intimacy

Terri DiMatteo, New Jersey Licensed Professional Counselor on Dec 18, 2022 in Relationship and Family

Many view a relationship where a couple gets along and engages in little or no conflict as desirable. But is that view accurate? Let’s inspect it.

Relationships devoid of conflict are often not secure enough for expressions of anger. As a result, individuals in these relationships often suppress their wants and needs to avoid angry exchanges or conflict. Some will go to great lengths to avoid anger at all costs.

So what’s happening, and what’s the healthy aim? First, I invite you to consider anger as just one emotion among many. Anger is not better, worse, negative, evil, harmful, or anything else. It’s not something to be avoided or suppressed. It just is. And like all emotions, its value and purpose are that it gives clues and helps us know what to do. Anger helps to propel us into action! One could argue (yes, pun intended) that anger is the perfect anecdote for feeling withdrawn or depressed. When depressed, people lie low, turn inward, and conserve energy. But when angry, they often take a stand, draw a line, and act. Anger, an energizing force, can catapult action! Without it, we may remain dormant.

Now, let’s go a step further and consider anger within the context of a romantic relationship. An accurate signpost of true love is when emotional expression opens up and expands. The expansive emotional expression between partners shows that the relationship is secure. From the solid foundation of a safe connection, intimate partners can express the whole gamut of emotions. Partners can be raw, honest, and candid with one another, with no topic being deemed off-limits.

They can have light, playful, intellectual, or heavy and profound exchanges. Hopes, dreams, and disappointments can be freely shared when the relationship is secure. We’ve all heard or uttered something like this: “I can tell them anything. They get me.” Emotional safety is the backdrop that allows for a wide range of emotional expressions without restriction.

Conversely, when a relationship is unsafe, expression narrows down and restricts. Before expressing, a partner might consider the ramifications. These restrictive guideposts of expression are often not directly stated but silently known. “We don’t talk about that...” is quietly understood as the range of expression narrows down.

Secure love has us open up and expand. Insecure attachment is narrow and restrictive. Here’s the paradox: Secure love has room for a vast expanse of emotional expression, including anger. Oh, the irony!

Many couples don’t want to have angry exchanges, and they have their reasons. For some, it overwhelms them, and they shut down and withdraw. For others, it scares them, and they feel either out of control or that they will become out of control. But whatever the reason, being in a relationship that is not safe enough for angry expression clips the wings of intimacy.

What bonds a couple and makes their connection durable is intimacy. Intimacy includes not just sexual connection but emotional intimacy. And anger is an emotion among many. So a couple that has an angry exchange is engaged in their relationship and one another. In effect, they are saying, “This matters to me. You matter to me. I matter, and this issue matters. We are important to one another, and you, I, and our relationship are worth fighting for!” The actual death knell of a relationship is not anger or fighting but indifference. When a relationship flatlines and the couple superficially "gets along" but the connection lacks passion, powerful feelings, and emotional engagement, it’s concerning.

Terri DiMatteo is a Licensed Professional Counselor in , .

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