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How can conflict be good?

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  • How can conflict be good?

    We have a saying in Imago: Conflict is Growth Trying to Happen
    It is absolutely normal for marital partners to push each others buttons. We often have a hard time understanding "What's the big deal?" when our partner seemingly 'overreacts.'
    But what if we tried to understand why that behavior or those particular words evoke such a strong reaction?

    After some work in an Imago Couples Workshop, I learned why my husband needed space now and then. I had often interpreted his retreating to himself as a rejection of me. Then I was hurt. I complained, pouted, and probably badgered him. I learned that he experienced his parents as being overly intrusive at times, and that he felt safe when he could have some solitude. He learned why I reacted so strongly, too. My father had been emotionally distant, and I often felt unloved by him. I needed contact with my husband to reassure me that he loved me!

    Understanding the source of our conflict has gone a long way to resolving it. We can openly express to each other our needs, and we understand that our needs are different. We have learned to "stretch" into new behaviors in order to give each other what we need. This is growth that arose out of our conflicts.

  • #2
    I thinik the challenge is when conflict continually turns into outright fighting -- when both partners are so focused on their hurt and frustration that they can't see -- or don't care to see -- the other person's perspective. There is also a trust issue there -- if I let down my guard and show caring, what if my spouse doesn't care or takes it that he/she "won"?

    What advice would you give spouses who have a difficult time trusting one another, or those who have a partner who sees conflict resolution as only a means to either winning or losing?


    • #3
      This is a huge challenge, Rita. You've described it well. We ARE naturally focused on our own hurt and frusration and want to put up our defenses. It takes putting one's own survival strategies on hold in order to hear the other. That can feel downright dangerous.

      I suggest approaching this issue when you are enjoying each other; when things are calm between the two spouses. From a place of caring and compassion, bring to mind your motive of nurturing the relationship. Reach across to your partner (figuratviely if not literally). You might say, "Is this a good time to share something with you?" This is a way of giving your partner some notice that you would like to be heard; s/he has a chance to prepare to listen. Be willing to make yourself vulnerable. "You know how we get into that power struggle when I complain about the pile of dirty socks.....I want to know what that's like for you." After hearing your partner and conveying your understanding of his/her feelings, then you can offer what it feels like to you when you see the dirty socks. Do this without blaming...only talk about how YOU feel.

      I realize this is a tall order. If this does not seem do-able on your own, there is professional help out there. Attending an Imago Workshop for Couples is a great place to start. I also recommend the book, Getting the Love You Want, by Harville Hendrix. There is a workbook available to accompany this book, for couples who would like to try the exercises at home.
      Last edited by Patricia Martin; 10-06-2009, 04:24 PM.


      • #4
        I live in the middle of of the country, not close to any of the Imago workshops. Do you think the book/workbook is sufficient, or are there Imago options over the phone or online...altho I realize this wouldn't be nearly as good as a workshop?


        • #5
          Many people have success with the workbook. It takes commitment on the part of both partners. The workshops are offered in many places. Lots of folks travel several hours to attend a workshop, so consider that option.

          If you go to the website,, you will see a tab that says "Find a Workshop." You can put in your state and see what comes up. Good luck with any and all endeavors to improve your relationship!