We all have relationships with others. Whether with friends, co-workers, caregivers, peers, romantic partners, community members ... we all have relationships. When we hear "relationship," we generally tend to think of romantic partners. However, that's not where relationships start or end: any time that two or more people form a connection, a relationship exists.

I choose to focus on relationships in general, because any connection can become strained, resulting in unresolved conflict. Conflict occurs in every single bond; any time two or more people connect, conflict is a possibility. So why do some people seem to come through the other side with relationships intact, while others reach a breaking point?

According to Drs. John & Julie Gottman, sound relationships have something in common: the ability to manage conflict. When conflict occurs in sound relationships, it is able to be managed by the people in question. It's not a deal-breaker because the conflict isn't a significant source of stress: connection, safety, and security are the guiding principles.

When conflict isn't managed, it can lead to increasing stress. Some examples of stress in a relationship include: feelings of emotional disconnection, pretending issues don't exist or are unimportant, avoiding confronting or addressing problems, convincing ourselves that the problem is the other person, and perspectives of "If this is such hard work, then it's just not meant to be." If you're experiencing anything like this in any of your relationships - romantic, platonic, etc. - relationship counselling might be of benefit.

Where do we get our ideas about how relationships look and what it takes to "show up" for them? Our first role models are the adults around us: we learn how relationships look from them. Our other sources include media, peers (often also informed by the same media we consume), and any educational information provided at schools or other institutions. If our role models lacked communication skills, weren't able to set or didn't respect boundaries, handled conflict poorly ... In a nutshell, we may go a long while before seeing healthy, communicative, equitable relationships - so it's no wonder we sometimes stumble around, thinking "Why isn't this working? I'm doing everything I know how to do!"

Things don't have to get to a breaking point or turn into a crisis in order to seek support. Any relationship can benefit from seeking outside assistance. Maybe that's something like a communication checkup. Maybe it looks like finding new skills or tools to work with. After all, if we can head off smaller problems before they turn into bigger ones, everyone benefits!