Yes, conflict is good, but how much is good?
“I felt so sad …. I sensed myself beginning to cry as the pilot announced the arrival of home.” It is likely that the immediate image is someone responding to a tragic event. These words, however, were spoken by a young man after two weeks spent exploring the beauty of Mediterranean seascapes, with no plans or obligations, and with enough money to enjoy the culture, food, and unrestricted travel …and an opportunity to be alone, to ‘re-charge batteries’, and to be free from the responsibilities of home and work.
This sense of sadness appeared to overwhelm this ‘problem collector’ in the anticipation of arriving home and, once again, taking on the burdens of the relationship. Some individuals feel that it is their duty to be the one who gathers up all of the problems in a relationship and direct them to some kind of resolution….and the most accomplished problem collector does this without the assistance of the other partner. For some problem collectors, it can be an issue of control, which may permeate other aspects of the relationship. Such an imbalance will often generate some difficulties for the marriage.
The problem collector may not have the confidence that their partner is able to participate in solving conflicts, and that he/she may break down at any attempt to engage in a discussion of daily issues that arise. Or the partner may be kept so busy with career and community activities that the problem collector feels uncomfortable interrupting such important work. The problem collector may believe that their only choice is to be the designated problem solver in the relationship. Being a problem collector can also be a way to avoid conflict in the relationship. By taking charge of the problems, a no-conflict relationship has been created. On the surface, and for a time, the relationship appears to be working…however, two authentic persons are absent.
The fundamental truth missed by the problem collector is that conflict is, and always will be, part of an authentic relationship. In fact, without conflict the potential for growth and development is at a standstill – it is stuck. Thriving relationships are continually in the stage of renegotiation. The relationship is nurtured and renewed as a consequence of the problem solving and conflict resolution processes.
Unless you are attempting to achieve the nomination for the most conflicted relationship of the year, you need to be cognizant of an important observation by John Gottman, a prominent relationship researcher: “…effectively functioning relationships experience a healthy balance between positive and negative feelings and actions towards each other.” He suggests a ratio of five positives for each negative.
Authentic people engage in conflict in an environment that is saturated with positive interactions.
Originally published in the ‘Tri-Cities News’ as a voluntary contribution to the community from Arthur Rathgeber.
The contents of this article are the property of Willow Grove Counselling, Inc. and further reproduction is given through written permission only. Copyright © 2012