Many couples engage in what I call the “merry-go-round” argument. This is where you argue about the same thing over and over again and never get anywhere. It’s extremely frustrating and as useful as banging your head against the wall. So why do it? Why do we (couples) engage in these fruitless arguments that drain our energy, create more distance, stir up hurt, anger and resentment and leave us feeling less than whole? Well believe it or not there is a purpose to these conflicts or power struggles!
CONFLICT HAS A PURPOSE? Tell me more…
In the Imago approach to couples therapy we have a saying, “Conflict is an opportunity for growth and healing, learn to approach conflict in a different way and you’ll transform your relationship and yourself!” It’s true! The real problem isn’t the conflict, it’s the way couples approach it. I think the best way to learn is from other’s people’s experience. Here’s an example from a lovely couple I know very well!
The couples I have in mind have been together for 21 years and just happens to be me and my husband! Although this happened about 10 years ago I remember it as if it were yesterday!
I wanted to paint the bedrooms in our house and had asked my husband repeatedly to complete this project. After stalling and procrastinating for over 4 months he finally agreed to do it the following weekend. As we got closer to the date I could feel my anxiety level rising.
Every day I’d ask or remind him about this project. I felt like I couldn’t help myself. I was constantly telling myself that if I didn’t remind him he’d forget about it and the “promise” would be broken. Given that he had as much enthusiam for this project as getting a hole drilled into the side of his head my constant reminding and asking for reassurance was driving him crazy. As I look back on it I can clearly see that I was also driving myself crazy. At the time I knew my anxiety was beyond the norm, but I really believed it was all about my husband’s reluctance to follow through. The day before he was supposed to paint I did my asking and reminding routine and it was the last straw. Right after I asked him if he was going to follow through with it he announced that he wasn’t going to do it, that I was driving him crazy and that it would just have to wait. I was livid, angry, ashamed, resentful…just full of hurt, anguish and despair. I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I knew this had more to do with me then with my husband breaking his word. So rather then get into a power struggle with him (we’d had enough of those over our then 11 years of marriage). I had to get past the big wave of anger that was telling me to let him have it!
So I took some time out and began to explore and investigate what was coming up for me. First there was the anger but underneath that anger was a powerful deep hurt that was very old. What I discovered was that this hurt was 10% about my husband and 90% about my own reaction and experience. My 90% was about growing up in with an alcoholic father who would make promises to me and the family that never came true. There was also a trigger on my husbands side and so we were both reacting to each other. The only way out of this conflict was for each of us to step back, notice we were triggered and take the time to look at what was underneath our avoidance tactics.
Watch the following video presented by Hedy and Yumi Schleiffer where she talks about why frustrations happen in relationship and the potential for healing and growth that can come out of a relationship if we (couples) are willing to connect through our vulnerability instead of our defenses. Please watch the entire clip as it’s a wonderful example of how connection happens when we bring curiosity and openess to whatever arises within us or our partner. It’s in being vulnerable that we can then connect through listening to understand and opening our hearts to each other.
You can learn how to become a safe, healing and loving presence for each other by
• Connecting through empathy and compassion instead of contempt and anger
• Takeing responsibility for your own feelings
• Understanding how you each contribute to the conflict
• Approach conflict in a different way so that you can learn moreabout each other and develop deeper intimacy, passion and joy.
As Maya Kollman, a wonderful and wise Master Trainer of Imago Relationship .Therapy says, “Relationship is not about finding the right partner; it is about becoming the right partner.”
To schedule a couples session to learn more about using the couples dialogue please contact me at 954-793-6442 or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Until next time! I wish you peace…