As a writer, I love conflict. It’s what makes the words jump from the page and launch themselves at my throat. It’s what can make a 1,000-page behemoth of a story interesting.
But let’s face it. What makes good fiction doesn’t make a good relationship.
If you’ve got conflict on every page of your relationship, you’ve also got something called a problem.
How did those four get where they are? Love. And great writers.
While we might sometimes feel that getting a bazooka out to wipe out our love interest‘s arch nemesis is a great idea, in this murky real world of ours that idea could land you in a federal prison for, you know. Ever.
One of my favorite television couples is Veronica Mars and Logan Echolls. Logan starts out as the obnoxious, somewhat cruel rich boy with a home life like something out of a social worker’s nightmare. Veronica is a fledgling private investigator who gets in a lot of trouble with style and aplomb after the dual personal tragedies of her best friend’s murder and having been roofied and raped at a party. What better combination of lovebirds?
Even with their spectacular personal issues, Logan and Veronica might stand a chance — except Logan’s aforementioned home life steps in via his criminally insane and disgusting father who installed cameras in their pool house to film his trysts with women (not, I might add, Logan’s mother). Ah. Conflict.
Veronica discovers the cameras and blames Logan. Over the seasons, they make increasingly bad decisions about one another, which keeps the tension high, but the chances of a successful relationship somewhere below ground zero.
In this the season of loooove — and I was born as a result of this season, so I can’t knock it — relationships spring to the center of attention. Who has them, who doesn’t, who wants them but doesn’t want to admit it — ah, February.
What makes fiction intriguing is that we see mirrors of ourselves. We see the shoddy communication efforts. We see the bad choices. The strange thing is that these examples often show a happy ending, when we know deep down in our gut that relationships that are that tumultuous don’t end without ending badly.
Wondering how to keep your relationship from being a conflict-driven tragedy? Here’s some tips!
1. Listen. So you had a misunderstanding that led to a fight — maybe even a breakup. Your significant other calls and leaves you a voice mail. Don’t pull a Veronica and delete it without listening to it; hear it out, then make a rational decision. That goes for arguments, too. Listen to what your partner has to say. If they’re screaming obscenities at you, the message you should hear is, “I’m very wrong for you. Go snuggle a puppy, eat some Ben and Jerry’s, and get out of this freak show.”
2. Define break. Are you on a break? Decide what that means going into it. Remember Ross and Rachel? Misunderstanding is born of a little seed called miscommunication, or that nothingness that exists where communication dies. Save yourself several
seasons years of angst and be clear about your expectations. Honesty might be painful, but it cuts through a lot of er…stuff.
3. Don’t cheat. Aside from the abiding level of betrayal this entails, cheating doesn’t do much for your karmic accumulations. If your relationship is failing, talk to your partner. With your words, not with the body language of a forbidden encounter. Believe me, that is one message that gets across loud and clear, so head it off and use your words like a big kid.
4. Talk. Where’s the beef? You got a beef? Air it out. Get it off your chest, and various other cliches. As much as 4 a.m. infomercials like to pretend to the contrary, people aren’t mind readers, and they generally don’t know what you’re thinking if you don’t tell them. You can fix most things with words and judiciously applied actions.
5. Trust. The final tip here is to leave the suspicion to the soaps and sitcoms. Successful relationships are built on trust — if you go sprinting to the worst assumption your brain can concoct, you’ll do nothing but sabotage any chances you had with your significant other. Just remember, it could be a murderous and perverted father who planted those video cameras.
Okay, if you find fiber optics and tiny Bond-esque cameras, you’ve probably got a problem. Luckily, that happens more often in fiction.
Good relationships will inevitably have conflict, but unlike fiction, that conflict does not have to exist on every page to keep things moving and happy. I’m lucky to have a husband who understands those two foundation stones of communication and trust — if you’re single, this is me giving you permission to hold out for someone who doesn’t just plunk you on a horse and trot westward, but someone who’ll be there on the other side of the sunset.
What have you learned not to do from your favorite books or television shows? Have you ever thought your significant other was taking lessons from a derailed plot? Entertain us!
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