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Conflict, Power and Love Success

Conflict

Mini-Love-Lesson   #190
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Synopsis: How successful loving couples powerfully succeed at handling disagreements, differences, opposing views and conflicts in three surprisingly different patterns is the focus of this mini-love-lesson.

The Best Use of Power When in Conflict

Sooner or later, every love relationship has conflict.  Some relationships are destroyed by it, some survive but are damaged, others repair fully and are even better than before while still other love relationships thrive on conflict right from the start.  What makes the differences?

Sooner or later, every love relationship has power issues whether they know it or not.  That is because it takes power to get anything done.  In love relationships, especially those called couples, families and comradeships, enormous amounts of hard to do things get done.  In the doing, conflicts arise and harmonious, effective teamwork power often is not easily achieved but when it is, everything is better and everybody usually is benefited.

Sooner or later, every couple has love issues because the giving, getting, growing and cycling of love effects and is effected by every couple’s way of handling conflicts and power issues.  It is the successful ways loving couples use power to handle conflict and differences with each other that concerns us here.

The Surprising 3 Most Love Successful Ways

Couples research into what works along with clinical analysis, has discovered three main ways or patterns of successfully dealing with power issues and conflict.  They are rather different from what the experts have previously thought and taught.  The titles, descriptions and details vary from study to study and presentation to presentation.  Here these three couple patterns of successfully dealing with conflicts and power issues are introduced and synthesized, summarized and given the following descriptive names.

The first one I call the Avoid and Finesse pattern, the second is the Volatile and Confronting pattern and the third is the Validating and Affirmational pattern.  Each of these patterns has its own benefits and advantages as well as its own drawbacks and dangers.  All three patterns involve couples who have been evaluated as healthfully having real love for each other.  They also have been measured as relationally positive in various ways such as being generally happy, stable and constructively functional.

1. Avoid and Finesse  When difficulties arise the successful couples using this approach work hard at avoiding directly confronting and conflicting with each other over the issues involved in the difficulty.  They tend to bring up that which is positive about their relationship and about each other more often.  They only very indirectly address the areas of possible contention, if at all.

At first they seem to, sort of, non-verbally agree to live with whatever is the source of this dissonance or disagreement perhaps to see if time alone will help solve the problem.  However, with close observation over time they can be seen to be gently, with finesse, handling the difficulty individually and then as a couple.   It is interesting that this can be done completely nonverbally by some couples using this system.  Eventually any lasting areas of possible dissonance and discord are verbally dealt with gently, in little bit segments, often starting with the easiest parts first.

Avoiding and finessing couples tend to be quite patient, kind, very seldom rude and genuinely nice to each other.  They highly value being in harmony with each other which is far more important to them than being right, defeating or winning over the other one.

It is not that the areas of continuing disagreement are forever unattended to.  Rather they are slowly and much more indirectly, subtly and carefully handled.  Compromise and synthesis-evolving-solutions are grown rather than openly confronted and decided.  In this system there is much less strong, negative, emotional expression.  There also sometimes is more strongly expressed positive emotion leading up to, during and after dealing with areas of oppositional disagreement and dissonance.

These couples usually are very comfortable with each other and see no reason to change this Avoid & Finesse style of dealing with conflicting opinions and opposing points of view.  If one person does get negative, the other frequently empathetically listens longer and then just counterbalances the negativity by being more lovingly positive.  That usually brings the other one back to a more love-positive way of interacting.  Sometimes the more okay-feeling spouse or love mate will directly but kindly ask their beloved to start returning to a more positive state and that clear, direct request usually is accepted.

Fairly good, healthy self-love seems to underlie this process for both people in the couple’s relationship.  In areas involving personal weakness, poor functioning and low competence leading to difficulties these couples tend to be very mutually supportive and cooperative with very little blaming or demeaning.  Gentle challenging for desired improvements does occur.

One big drawback and danger to the Avoid and Finesse style has to do with dealing with difficulties demanding quick resolution.  Another has to do with intractable problems that cannot be improved on without conscious, direct, interactive discussion.  Also some unsolved or unimproved conflict areas result in individuals repressing or suppressing negative feelings for a time, which then is followed by cathartic explosion.  At such times, these couples may distance themselves overlong from each other but usually then come back together, make up and go on.  There is also the danger that some couples get stuck in just avoiding and never get to the finessing improvements and resolution part.  This can be deeply destructive if it leads to a growing lack of self-disclosure loving and the closeness that brings.

Sometimes such couples, for various other reasons, go to family or couple’s counseling and meet with a therapist who thinks direct confrontation is the only way to go.  That might result in more harm than good being done.

2. Volatile and Confronting  Successful couples prone to using this style of dealing with difficulties and disagreements quickly become intensely, persuasively and assertively emotional.  They appear to enjoy arguing, teasing and provoking each other as they each combatively argue for their own case.  However, angry sounds, looks and gestures frequently are accompanied by occasional shared laughter, clever remarks, witty comebacks and even compliments when a point is well made.  Vigorous and heated debate is treated rather like a game and sometimes leads into passionate, aggressive style sex.  To outsiders including counselors and therapists, this style can look like purposeful, harmful fighting and destructive dysfunction.

It is important to note that couples using the Volatile & Confronting style, though arguing passionately, usually are doing three very positive things.

First, they are avoiding being seriously demeaning, personally insulting or trying to tear down each other.

Second, both are doing a good job of what is sometimes called owning their own okayness.  Therefore, they are not letting a sense of personal okayness be robbed from them by anything the other one says or does.  Thus, by way of strong, healthy self-love they both remain independent and free to clash vigorously.

Individually, both count on the other to remain emotionally okay during this fight style interaction.  If anyone’s feelings do get hurt by taking something the other one said too personally, they usually quickly convert to reparative, comforting interactions.  Later they go back to vigorous, confrontive sparring rather more carefully than at first.

Third, Volatile & Confronting couples tend to occasionally punctuate even the most volatile of their arguments with love-positive messages.  Not infrequently, this is done with brief, loving smiles, gestures, touches or words of love, respect and high valuing of each other.

Surprisingly, this often results in a final synthesis of opposing views and arrival at a solution to the difficulties better than either one of them could have individually devised.  Harmony between them usually then quickly follows.

Counselors not familiar with this kind of love-successful-interaction sometimes label such couples as high risk and dysfunctional.  In truth, they usually are among the most stable, happy and generally successful of couples.  They also tend to be among the more highly romantic, sexual, playful and lively of couples.

Drawbacks include sometimes having difficulty achieving serenity, patience, tenderness and understanding people who take offense easily.  They also can be misidentified as intolerant, combative and difficult.  They also may get in trouble handling relationship rivals or threats too aggressively.

    3. Validating & Affirmational  Successful couples who deal with relational dissonance issues in the Validating & Affirming style tend to be much calmer and more easy going while handling disagreements openly and directly with each other.  They fairly frequently are prone to intersperse oppositional statements with affirmational messages delivered with positive, upbeat tones and happy, loving looks.  They are more prone to active-loving-listening to each other longer and asking interested questions for further knowledge and clarification.  They tend to do this at some length before undertaking the teamwork of attempting solution building.  It is obvious that they usually treat each other quite kindly and with mutual respect.

This style leads to them being happily comfortable with each other as they face differences and difficultly.  Praises and compliments, with an openness to each other’s ideas, helps them to be very co-functional and positive as they mutually process oppositional points of view.  Occasionally they can become rather argumentative but, even there, they are reciprocating positive looks, gestures, facial expressions , voice tones, etc..  They definitely have a democratic approach but if they do fight they make up easier and quicker with more forgiveness than do many other couples.

Couples using the Validating & Affirming system are very consensus prone.  They have an approach characterized by unless we both win, we both lose and our love relationship loses.  Seldom, if ever, is there a one of us has to win and the other loses orientation.

Good-natured humor and increasingly growing to accept each other’s influence characterizes their relational growth over time.  Like the other successful, happy and lasting couples, expressions of love-positive words and actions occur more frequently than anything that could be called anti-love or love-negative, even when conflicting with each other.

Of all styles, couples using the Validating & Affirming approach are the best at conjoint (team) functioning.  Counter-intuitively, the tendency of this joint way of operating is seen as highly contributory to both partner’s individuality and personal actualization.  Also this system seems to make such couples quite proud of each other and their union.

Couples who tend to be Validating & Affirming are the happiest and healthiest of our three kinds of successful couples but there is one big danger.  If one of them gets unusually unhappy or negative about something, the other member of the couple may also automatically get unhappy rather than remaining more emotionally-up and able to help.

That especially can occur with a lack of understanding or self-disclosure about what is wrong.  In turn, that may give rise to the growth of various suspicions and magnified fears.  This, in turn, can lead to considerable misunderstanding and discordant miscommunication along with pronounced anxiety.  Serious escalation of difficulty may result and become quite destructive.

This is a situation which Volatile and Confronting couples tend to handle quicker and best, and one which Avoiding & Finessing couples usually dodge.

Becoming  Power Usage  and Conflict Resolving Successful

With the help of arriving at a good conflict handling system, individuals and couples can change, improve, repair if needed and can go on to bigger, better, healthy real love.  This includes couples working at learning to much more successfully deal with conflicts, disagreements and discord in their relationship.  This, of course, takes well-informed conjoint (team) effort.  With such effort, couples can become conjointly, harmoniously and wonderfully powerful and, thus, successful in the ways described above.  That is the challenge facing you and all of us.

The Big Problem of Mismatches

When, in a couple’s relationship, one partner uses one of these three styles and the other uses another style, big relational problems can result.  It is like one of them is playing football, and the other basketball and both can’t understand why the other one doesn’t play right.  Both are likely to try getting the other to do it their way, but not know how to achieve that goal.  Couples counseling with love-knowledgeable counselors and therapists can help.

I recommend checking out therapists credentialed by their countries’ marriage and family therapy professional accreditation organizations, and especially those trained in the well researched Arts and Science of Love (ASL) approach created by Doctors John and Julie Gottman, and those trained in the Emotions Focused Couples Therapy (EFT) of Dr. Sue Johnson.  Information to do so can be found online via standard search engines.  The above, as well as others and my own considerable clinical experience, have contributed to the research and clinical views informing this mini-love-lesson.

Related Mini-Love-Lessons:  “Communicating Better with Love”, “Listening with Love – Are You Good at It?” , “Talking Styles That Hurt and Help Love”, and “Empathy – A Love Skill”

As always – Go and Grow with Love

Dr. J. Richard Cookerly

Love Success Question  Which of the three styles of dealing with opposing views and conflicts in a couple’s relationship (or other close relationship) may fit you best?

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