Esther Perel’s New Course on Conflict and Relationships Taught Me 5 Things About Myself

Your parents had fights so loud they almost blew the roof. Or maybe they would give each other the silent treatment for weeks at a time. Growing up, you remember your mom was allowed to get angry and shout but you were punished by her for doing the same back. We all learned how to conduct relationships, including having fights, in our childhoods by watching what the adults around us did.


Fighting with a partner: We’ve all done it—and most of us would say that, at times, we’ve done it badly. We’ve either said something we later regret or failed to say the right thing. A fight that starts about one person’s punctuality on date night escalates to a blazing blowup about your in-laws and childhoods, and neither of you is sure how you wound up there.

Turning Conflict Into Connection is an online course that is an hour long, broken down into eight parts, along with a workbook with supplementary exercises to complete. The course can be taken alone or with your partner. Perel says it will put you on the path to new ways of dealing with conflict and help you gain the skills to build a more resilient relationship. I got to take the course in advance of its release. Here are five things I learned:

Conflict in a relationship follows a pattern.

I felt personally called out by this one. When we argue with our partner, many of us adopt a reflex called fundamental attribution error. In layman’s terms, this is a distortion that occurs when we are angry with a partner: We will see all of our own behavior as circumstantial (“I was late because traffic was bad!”) and all of our partner’s behavior as a result of character flaws (“You were late because you don’t care enough about our anniversary”). Over time, we start to interpret everything our partner does through a negative lens and ascribe bad intentions to them. Soon our commitment to our assumptions becomes more important than our commitment to our partner. Watch out.

We learned how to fight in childhood from the way our families fought.

According to Perel, the way we argue with our partner tends to be a paint-by-numbers exercise. While the exact catalyst for the fight might change, the structure or what Perel calls “choreography” of the fight is a pattern that repeats itself again and again. 

If you’re always the person spoiling for the fight and your partner is the one who bails at the first sign of conflict, or you both go at each other hard, or you both bail, then recognizing that is the first step toward more constructive conflict.

When we are in conflict with our partner, we tend to have a prejudiced view of their behavior.

At its most destructive, fighting is a cycle of blame, attack, or defensiveness (i.e. it gets very personal about the other person quickly, escalates to issues beyond the initial dispute, and becomes chronic). So far, so depressing. But don’t despair: What Perel also teaches here is that mapping out the shape of our relationship conflict is an opportunity. Once we spot the pattern, we can begin to break it down to its basic elements and start to change it.

If this sounds familiar and you’re stuck in a cycle of conflict with a partner that isn’t productive or hurts you both, then couples therapist and best-selling author Esther Perel’s new online class, Turning Conflict Into Connection, might be for you.