Aspects of Healthy, Generative Relationships
So don’t fight us on this one! Dealing effectively with Conflict, large and small, can potentially offer a more relaxed atmosphere inside of a relationship with the knowing that any conflict can be resolved. The primary conflict in most relationships is the intersection of “their stuff” and “my stuff.” So acceptance, owning, and wisdom and knowledge of this dynamic within oneself and within the relationship is essential to gracefully resolve conflict. We look forward to hearing from you about this.
“Every couple needs to argue now and then. Just to prove that the relationship is strong enough to survive. Long-term relationships, the ones that matter, are all about weathering the peaks and the valleys.”―Nicholas Sparks
Conflict is not an “if,” it is a when, it is part of life. This is recurrently seen in nature along the food chain, territorial disputes, competition for mating, and habitat destruction. Everyone has internal conflict and when this gets activated it often goes external. Conflict comes in degrees from a mild differing of points of view to an emotional or physical clash. Differing points of view are often fun and exciting to talk about – until one gets too stuck on their point. Open conflict when tempers erupt is not always bad, though it can be really uncomfortable feel very unsafe for some. Voices get loud, emotions are on the rise, and it gets worse when we loose ourselves to the conflict. So it becomes valuable in a relationship to have a conflict practice, basically meaning couples knows what to do when conflict occurs. Left to its own devices and unchecked habituated tendencies, a couple’s conflict pattern will become fixed and habituated into the relationship. Once this happens it can be difficult to re-pattern but not impossible. What becomes useful is when partners both know, own, and can interrupt limiting patterns of behavior. As remarked in the “Communication” section, a series of agreements and owning one’s own tendencies goes a long way to defuse conflict.
One of the ways conflict is handled in a relationship is ignoring. Like this isn’t too bad, so I will suffer in silence because the possibility of open conflict is worse. Take note if you find yourself thinking or declaring that there is no conflict in your relationship. There is a wall that can be erected relating to conflict, and here are several possibilities that can lead to a “no conflict” wall in a relationship. These are things like both partners being conflict adverse, one partner always gives over to the other, there is a negative threat from one partner, or disagreements are ignored.
Resisting or ignoring conflict can have big consequences in relationships. Unresolved issues will most likely result in resentment, and resentment will undermine the possibility of satisfying relationships as there will always be an undercurrent of stress from what is unresolved. There is also the possibility of overreacting to situations if an unresolved issue is provoked, even indirectly. This can result in a response of, “Where the heck did that come from?”
The positive power of conflict is one of the ways that conflict can elevate a relationship. Done well, conflict has a generative aspect, that is, it assists in clearing the air, lowering stress, and producing intimacy. This requires a new, embodied, and generative relationship to the practice of conflict. That differs from the “old” story that conflict is bad and should be avoided and will create distance in the relationship. The old story is most likely embodied from historical shaping and that the threat of conflict will often carry a legacy of danger. The new practice is to learn to move towards and into conflict as a possibility for intimacy and connection, regardless of the irrational fears that may intrude into one’s thinking.
Understanding, owning, healing, and reorganizing our personal internal conflict offers us distance from automatic confrontation, distance from shrinking from being pushed against, or from always taking action to make things “all right.” Sometimes things will just not be all right, and life is asking us to face into it. What would it be like for you to feel that initial trigger of conflict, settle yourself, and directly face into the conflict towards resolution? Through self-knowing and practice we can reframe our relationship with conflict into a generative skill.
Take the opportunity to notice both partners’ reaction to conflict without judgment. Name it and own it. Notice what it is that triggers you. Is it a look, a phrase, the energy of the moment? Remember that you are not to blame for your automatic reactions. Your history made you. And owning it means taking responsibility for what you now see about yourself.
Stand about 8-10 feet from your partner. Ask your partner to mimic what triggers you, fine-tuning and scripting your partner for maximum trigger (sound like fun??). Even though this is being purposefully set up, our soma, our self, will in almost all cases react as if the event is real. Noticing how you get triggered, then walk towards your partner, mimicking you moving into conflict. Again, notice your reaction to this. Hard? Easy? Reluctance? Freeze? Then practice walking into conflict from a place of ground, power, and dignity. It is most likely not going to be an exchange of this for that, but more like even though I have all this “stuff” going on, I will find ground, access my power, and stand for my dignity while maintaining dignity and integrity of your partner.
After learning your reaction, repeat this practice looking to center around developing the skill of moving towards conflict even in the face of your historical automatic reactions. What you then see about yourself reveals self-work to do in this area.
If you see a recurrent issue that is difficult or seemingly impossible to shift, the practice is revealing a place for your continued self-work.
Cartoon courtesy of Meredith Broome http://www.relevantelephants.com