A few months ago I realized, through watching a friend who I see rarely react to my dynamic with Topaz, that Topaz and I argue -- or appear to argue -- a LOT. We use playful complaint to release irritation; this is not conflict but can look like it. We use tactless respectful disagreement to help us learn about each other, increase our knowledge, and broaden our understanding of each other and what we can teach each other. Our other arguments don't happen in front of other people, and are comparatively rare.
playful complaint: not conflict
Sometimes our interactions might look like conflict but are actually play. One example would be that sometimes I sleep-talk and Topaz finds this super annoying and has to put earplugs in. When we first talked about it I asked if they would rather I not sleep over, or rather I sleep downstairs, and they replied with an emphatic no because they really love our sleepy cuddles. It's annoying but it's not something either of us have a desire to change because it's worth it.
So since then, when it happens, Topaz might say something like "omg you were SO ANNOYING last night" and I will laugh and say "oops!" And Topaz will describe in detail how frustrating it is and I will laugh at the situation but also empathize. And occasionally Topaz will make a comment like "well I didn't sleep well thanks to SOMEBODY making noises all night!" and we both understand that it's a playful complaint.
I check in every so often when they complain to be sure that they still prefer the situation as-is, but generally I know that they are okay with it because they are over-the-top complaining. If they wanted something to change, they would never approach it with over-the-top complaints. We are rude for fun, and when we are problem-solving we use gentle language at least 90% of the time (we aim for all the time but brains and emotions are never 100% controllable).
You can't mix play and passive aggression
Some people pretend to be playful when really they're trying to manipulate their partner into changing their behavior without having to have a conversation about it or ask for the change they want. That's a horrible idea because it destroys trust and makes it impossible to actually play when it comes to any uncomfortable situation. If you want your partner's behavior to change, it is not okay to complain in some over-the-top way because that is a kind of emotional bullying. Instead, try to express yourself as gently, completely, and truthfully as you can and include a direct request for the change you want. Save the vivid complaining for stuff that doesn't matter.
lack of tact doesn't mean disrespect
We also interact often with tactless statements. This is technically conflict but for us it doesn't even register that way because we have the same goal: a forever deepening understanding of each other and the world. It's a lot quicker to argue your way to agreement than it is to carefully phrase everything so that it can't be disagreed with. An example of what I mean:
Me: *makes opinion statement*
Topaz: no, *makes opposing statement*
me: yes, because *supporting evidence*
Topaz: no, because *supporting evidence*
*back and forth discussing which evidence is stronger*
[example, not a conversation we've actually had]
Me: "Action movies are only fun once."
Topaz: "no, they're fun every time!"
me: "no they aren't -- all the impact is based on one single question, usually 'who will win?' and once you know there is nothing else to get out of them."
Topaz: "They may be based on one question but they can have impact over and over because you can relate the 'loser' to the stresses in your life and get vicarious victory over them -- it's cathartic."
Me: "Hm, I hadn't thought about that because it doesn't work for me. I wonder what it is that makes some people able to get that vicarious enjoyment..."
Through tactless but respectful disagreement, we learn all kinds of things about the topic itself and about the way we each think. One of us teaches and the other learns or we both do both. We find this a fun and valuable way to interact and neither of us even register this as a conflict because we are both on the side of truth and together we are figuring out what that is.
tactless discussions require COMPLETE trust
One thing you absolutely need in order to have tactless discussions without hurting each other is a MUTUAL, complete and sturdy trust that the other person considers your thoughts to be as important, accurate, and valid as their own. If there is any doubt that the other person truly respects the way you think or communicate, you must both use care and tact in phrasing so that you don't accidentally imply that the other person's ideas are inferior to yours. I have ruined friendships by being tactless when that trust was not there; the trust MUST COME FIRST and there is no forcing it. It is not okay to demand that someone trust you to respect them. You must prove it through repeated example. If the other person doesn't feel completely comfortable with you being tactless and vice versa, that trust is not there.
Other than playful complaint and tactless discussion, we rarely argue. Not to say that there are no difficulties; when we have an emotional clash it hurts a lot, but that happens pretty rarely and we usually learn something important from it. Also, it hurts only out of comparison to the unity and adoration we usually share, not due to any kind of meanness or carelessness with each other's feelings.
behaviors we avoid in conflict
We don't try to hurt each other emotionally -- it is so beyond the realm of what we think of as okay that I forget that some people do that. We don't call names, threaten, or yell. We don't make dismissive, disrespectful, callous, or derisive comments. We don't attack ourselves or engage in self-hate, especially not out loud where it hurts the other person also. We almost never assign motive rather than asking, and if we do we apologize sincerely after we realize. We don't assign blame to the other or ourselves. When we realize we hurt the other person, we do not defend our choices!!!
behaviors we practice in conflict
We trust each other to tell the truth about our own motives, emotions, and desires. We take responsibility for our mistakes by making plans to do better. When we realize we hurt the other person, we empathize first, then explain our motives for what we did (not defensively), then discuss how we will try to avoid hurting them this way again, and ask if there is anything the hurt person needs to help them feel better. Afterward we usually hug, sometimes go have a lay-down cuddle if it was really intense.
accepting their stated motives as true
Part of trusting each other means we erase mistaken ideas about the other person when corrected. For example, recently Topaz and I had an emotional clash over a misunderstanding about plans and right afterwards they went upstairs and closed the door to their bedroom behind them. I took it personally and felt like they were shutting me out out of anger but when I told them I felt that way, they explained that they were feeling overwhelmed and just needed to decrease all stimulation including noise. I accepted that they were telling the truth and didn't feel hurt any more because the reason I was hurt was my misinterpretation of their motive. They empathized with how I felt, we cuddled and mended the gap.
In that moment I thought to myself how torturous it would be to not be able to have healing re-connection after a painful misunderstanding. I don't know how other people manage to just not talk about their upsets and wait for time to dull the ache and hope that they can accidentally happen into some re-connection along the way. I want to feel 100% back to normal connectedness by the time the clash is over, and the vast majority of the time, that's what happens. The only time that isn't true is when we're both nearly out of energy and then we clash and we both go into the negative. Then we tiptoe around each other for a bit and do passive-connection things like watch a show until we get back to neutral.
arguments based on misunderstanding
There is one other kind of argument we have that I think many people have, where we are out of sync and start arguing about something that eventually we realize we never disagreed on in the first place but we just misunderstood each other over and over. This kind of clash is a totally useless waste of energy and I hate it. One of the reasons it happens is that we are usually so emotionally and mentally in sync that one of us can say a vague and grammatically senseless sentence and the other person understands it right away. It just doesn't occur to us that we could be completely misunderstanding the other. (I remember having this same kind of argument with Kylei for the same reason)
I only recently learned to tell when that was happening (Topaz may have already known, not sure) and we agreed to call a pause on any argument that felt like that to us, to be picked up later if it turned out to be important. Just being mutually aware that that happens has already dropped the rate of recurrence, and it was already pretty rare.
shelving an unresolved discussion is a necessary skill
One thing that helped shape our conflicts was that Topaz will remember and reflect on an issue independent of me. Before Topaz, everyone I was with was either conflict-avoidant or had a bad memory or simply spent all their mentally-free time escaping, so I always felt like everything had to be discussed immediately and completely since otherwise it literally wouldn't happen. I would force discussions, which is counterproductive and more importantly, unethical as it can be a violation of consent.
I had to change my habits with Topaz, partly because I realized that what I was doing was wrong, and partly because it was especially counterproductive with Topaz. Immediate discussions of emotional issues don't work for how Topaz processes things, at least not if the issue is something they haven't already reflected on. It was a huge effort of trust to let a topic just get put away when it wasn't resolved, but Topaz showed over and over that they would come back to me about it when they were ready. Now it's not difficult for me to shelve an unresolved topic -- though it's not easy either, and still takes some mental and emotional work to do.
I have learned that for me to be fully intimate with someone, they must either be able to discuss right away OR be willing and able to reflect on the issue on their own time and then talk with me when they finish. Either works, and I am sure there are other possible solutions as well. The basic need is for my partner to be willing and able to take responsibility for their share of the emotional work and actually do it.