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Conflicts Part 3: Relationship Conflicts

What relationship conflicts are not:

Relationship conflicts are always connected with feelings and arise when one person feels disrespected, humiliated, pressured or not understood by the other. The relationship between these people is disturbed. There are always conflicts that affect the interpersonal level, which is why they cannot be systematically resolved like the factual conflict.

I found this definition in the Academy of Sports. What bullshit. To portray a relationship conflict as disregard, humiliation and a troubled relationship between two people simply testifies to infinite IGNORANCE. Conflict is part of us. They accompany us for life, day after day. The problem is not the conflict, but how we deal with it. If we condemn conflicts from the outset, assess them as stressful and disturbed, then we are making a big mistake. That goes for all kinds of conflicts.

Let’s look for further definitions that might be more appropriate to the term.

A relationship conflict is a process of conflict that is based on different interests of individuals and social groups and is institutionalized and carried out in different ways.

This definition comes from Karl Berkel, a German psychologist and theologian who has made a name for himself on the subject of conflicts and solution strategies. He also postulates: “Relationship conflicts arise when one party hurts, humiliates, disregards the other.”

I partly agree with him in the first part. With the second interpretation for it, not at all! I think it is a wrong approach to directly link the emergence of a conflict with injury, humiliation and disregard. The emergence of conflict is ONLY based on different understandings questions, a goal or the evaluation of an event. What we make of it, i.e. how we deal with ourselves and with others in the respective situations, is different. The conflict is not the totality of our behaviour in the process of argument, but the indication that we have different opinions. Therefore, I plead to define the conflict much more clearly, namely as a dichotomy of interest or as a clash of different views.

Why do I think this approach is so important?

There are several reasons for this, which I will explain explicitly. First and foremost, I aim to resolve conflicts and use them for us. It is not expedient to condemn conflicts and to assign such negative attributes as hurt, disregard and humiliation. As I said, this is often a consequence of conflict. Therefore, we immediately associate the dichotomy, differing opinions, i.e. having a different opinion, with precisely these attributes: hurt, disregard and humiliation. Isn’t that pure madness? Yes, that is absolute madness! Having a different opinion is equated with suffering, insults, etc. What an indictment. The consequences of such assignments are manifold.

So, what do we do when we interpret conflict in this way?

  • We experience other views and opinions as threatening.
  • We perceive a conflict as stressful and an attack on our person and integrity.
  • We reject different ideas, or we withdraw with our views.
  • We experience conflict situations as fighting situations.
  • We suffer, we are hurt, disregarded, and humiliated.
  • We hurt, shame, and disregard.
  • We win or we lose.
  • We both lose.

So, what do I propose for a better understanding of how to deal with conflict?

First -> decouple

I think it is eminently important to recognize the conflict per se on the trigger of the conflict or clash. When we start this process, we lay the foundations for successful conflict resolution. It’s about facts and these must be separated from the rest of the cocktail. The magic word here is UNCOUPLING.

Second -> rate it

Then it’s about evaluating these facts free of prejudice, emotions and beliefs. I think it helps here to introduce the concept of the balance sheet. How important is my opinion, my conviction, in this particular case.

Third -> find a strategy for a solution

How much do I want to invest, how far do I go, how do I get involved, by what means? I can even wonder if I need help to resolve the conflict for myself successfully.

Fourth -> conflict resolution

This is the decisive step, and unfortunately, it rarely goes well for everyone involved. Often there are only losers or a winner and loser. Very rarely are there only winners, and from my point of view, that is unnecessary and unacceptable. The definitions of conflict and the corresponding attributions in the population, namely, to experience conflicts as negative phenomena, reinforce my claim. Conflicts are mostly seen as threatening and painful.

That’s exactly what I want to change all my life. Admittedly, so far with little success – but I’m not giving up.

In the first post, we got to know two couples who each have a conflict situation that they cannot resolve. Their conflicts take place in an intimate, personal relationship. Here I would like to point out that relationship conflicts can take place on all relationship levels. I limit myself to the former case in this article. To be able to solve relationship conflicts better, it makes sense to grasp the relationship as such.

The delimitation principle Source:

Overall, there are two types of demarcation, which can be differentiated as follows: Boundaries are important in a system and thus also in a two-way relationship. On the one hand, the partners distinguish themselves from each other within the couple relationship (inner boundary). On the other hand, the couple differentiates themselves from other people (external border). Such borders are characterized by the fact that they can be clear and permeable (healthy demarcation), rigid (lack of flexibility) or diffuse (unclear).

How can we understand that? I like to use a little trick to understand relationships better. Let’s think of Eva and Holger who have a relationship. We give the relationship its name, e.g. Goldangel and treat Goldangel like a third person. Goldangel only exists because there are Eva and Holger. Therefore, Goldangel is not a typical child as it would be a biological child. I emphasize this at this point because parents often see and treat children like gold angels, which is bad for parents and children. Children live on without parents, while Goldangel needs Eva and Holger to survive. It is not uncommon for Goldangel to be treated like a biological child. That is also incorrect. So, we are dealing with three people: Eva, Holger and Goldangel. The demarcation helps us to understand a possible conflict.

The conflict about Eva’s hair

We remember that Holger is very annoyed by Eva’s hair, which is scattered all over the apartment, especially in the sink and bathroom. Eva doesn’t clear away her scattered hair. Let us now proceed very systematically.

First -> The cause of the conflict is Eva’s hair scattered around the apartment.

Second -> Request for change comes from Holger to Eva.

Third -> Conflict arises because Eva does not meet Holger’s demand: there is a collision.

This is a very typical example of a relationship conflict. While I disagree with many popular models of psychology, I mention Bas Kast’s five horsemen of the apocalyptic. No, not because I think it’s okay, but because I want to use the model to present a different perspective.

  1. Criticism: Not only the action but also the person is attacked
  2. Defense: Justification -> partner does not feel that he is being taken seriously
  3. Contempt: Cynicism or sarcasm -> devaluation of the partner
  4. Withdrawal: A feeling of powerlessness -> no more anger or contempt
  5. Demonstration of power: No more consideration for the opposite -> alienation

Classically, one would now check out Eva and Holger’s conflict using the apocalyptic riders. That’s what I won’t do! I don’t want to deny that these points do not apply to relationship conflicts. However, I consider the approach of looking for the negative sides of a conflict to be the wrong one when looking for solutions. Applying the Kast model is a therapeutic approach that assumes that the relationship is severely disturbed. But that has precious little to do with the conflict but is much more profound. Here Goldangel is seriously ill and urgently needs help.

What do I suggest?

Let’s ask Goldangel. The conflict takes place between Eva and Holger. Of course, both are affected. Holger asks something from Eva, and she doesn’t. There is also Goldengel, which only exists in the form because Eva and Holger live together. So, it’s good to ask Goldengel what he thinks of it. Maybe he says that he doesn’t want to live like this anymore and that he wants to move away anyway. Then the conflict over Eva’s hair is irrelevant because a separation is pending. Perhaps Goldengel says that he suffers a lot, wants to go on living with both of them and hopes that they will resolve the conflict. Another possibility is that Goldangel doesn’t care and doesn’t feel affected by the conflict. This information is precious for decoupling and an initial assessment of the conflict. The decoupling takes place by defining Eva and Holger’s relationship as a third person. This person is affected but not primarily involved.

The relationship provides an initial assessment in terms of the extent to which it was affected by the conflict. Goldangel makes a statement to Holger and Eva, e.g. could read as follows:

  • You are essential to me
  • I don’t give a damn about you and don’t want to anymore
  • I am suffering, and I ask you to resolve this
  • I don’t care, don’t concern me
  • I am at a loss, have no idea …

When the two have cleared this first hurdle, they can deal with the conflict more quickly. They now know a lot, because they can assess the value of their relationship, i.e. Goldangel, for both of them. Maybe they understand Goldangel very differently. Then they have no choice but to come to an agreement and find a compromise, what Goldangel means for both of them. One of my favourite sentences is: A two-person relationship is only healthy and happy if it is understood and perceived equally by both sides. Otherwise, we are dealing with an unhealthy relationship. Do you remember the simulation with the cooperation of women entrepreneurs in the second part. When parties cooperate, everyone wins. If they don’t and if they work against, there will be losers. Goldangel is the product of cooperation between Holger and Eva. If both have different ideas or different expectations of Goldangel, this has serious consequences. The relationship is not stable but rather heavily burdened and vulnerable.

It is not uncommon for the individual expectations of the relationship to be incompatible. That becomes the engine for the emergence of pseudo-conflicts on other levels within or outside of the relationship. A shift to other participants or a change in the conflict can also often be observed. That is what makes resolving conflicts within relationships so complicated. The initial confrontation and the initial involvement are often difficult or impossible to identify. In other words, it is then about everything else possible and no longer about the initial conflict at all. You see, it is not that easy, but it is very instructive to introduce the aspect of relationship clarification in relationship conflicts. Granted – relationships are incredibly complicated and diverse beings. Let’s apply it directly to Eva and Holger. Holger is dissatisfied, so let’s talk to him about Goldangel.

Conversation with Holger

Hello Holger, you said that Eva’s hair used to be so incredibly beautiful for you, that you loved the smell and were even happy when you found some on your clothes. Is that correct?

Holger: I still love her hair, just not when it’s lying around everywhere, and I always have to put it away. I also like to smell Eva’s head. Back when we weren’t living together, I didn’t have to put her hair out. They weren’t all over my apartment, so I didn’t mind if they were lying around. Now it’s too much of a good thing for me. I don’t understand why Eva doesn’t put it away. That cannot be that hard.

This first question to Holger says a lot. He loves Eva, he loves her hair, and he wants to keep the relationship with her going. He really wants to keep Goldangel together with Eva. But he also wants his interests as Holger to be recognized and respected by Eva.

Conversation with Eva

Hello Eva, you know that Holger is very annoyed about your hair, which is scattered all over the apartment. It bothers him that he has to put them away.

Eva: he doesn’t have to put it out. I used to put them away occasionally, but not immediately the way he wants them to be. That’s how I’ve always done it before. He is overwhelmingly sensitive there. I don’t understand why he is so involved. I always thought he loved my hair. I don’t do it extra to have my long hair fall out to annoy him. But I don’t see that I have to follow him completely. I would put my hair away, but then when I see fit.

At least now, the conflict becomes apparent. Holger and Eva have different ideas about the order. The conflict only arises because Holger cannot bear to see lost hair in the apartment, and Eva is not willing to put her hair away immediately. These conflicts are prevalent among couples, e.g. Tidying away dishes, washing clothes, carrying down garbage, etc. The solution to these conflicts is usually easy to solve, as long as they have not escalated to such an extent that they have caused severe injuries or are representative of profound relationship problems. This is also not infrequently the case. The small conflict hides the real problem. You can see that very easily by talking to Goldangel.

Conversation with Goldangel / First scenario

Hello Goldangel, how are you with the matter of Eva’s hair?

Goldangel: good just a little annoyed. The two love and respect for each other, then they quarrel about such nonsense. I suffer a lot from it; it can’t be that hard to agree. They are each with themselves and forget what connects them; they neglect me!

What did you wish?

Goldangel: That they agree, find a solution and stick to it. It can’t be that difficult, but nobody wants to give in.

The relationship is fine here. Goldangel has no existential fears, still feels supported by both partners and asks them to find a solution to the conflict.

Conversation with Goldangel / Second scenario

Hello Goldangel, how are you with the matter of Eva’s hair?

Goldangel: I don’t know, I don’t want to talk about it.

Oh, that doesn’t sound good. Is it that bad? You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t feel like it.

Goldangel: I don’t know, maybe I should talk about it after all.

Take your time…

Goldangel: the two only argue. They argue about all kinds of things, yelling at each other and blaming each other. Everything has changed. I guess it’s my fault.

Oh, that isn’t nice for you.

Goldangel: yes, very bad, I think you can no longer agree on me, I can no longer please both of them. They overwhelm me, sometimes they also abuse me.

At this point, we leave the conversation with Goldangel. What is becoming very clear is that the relationship has been severely attacked. The hair is irrelevant because the fundamental problem is a profound relationship problem. It is obvious that solving the hair problem is not productive, and everything will be fine between the two of them. There is much more to it here than real issues that need to be addressed. From my understanding, this no longer falls under the category of conflicts. That goes in the direction of therapeutic intervention and can actually no longer be resolved systematically like a factual conflict.

We, therefore, dedicate ourselves to scenario1 and try to resolve the conflict systematically.

Conflict resolution

  1. Decouple

Holger is bothered by Eva’s hair lying around, so he has to put it away. He demands that Eva put her hair away. Holger loves Eva; he wants to keep being with her; he loves Eva’s hair. Eva doesn’t keep putting her fallen out hair away because it’s unimportant to her; she doesn’t mind. She loves Holger and would like to go on living with him. She does not see it coming out along on Holger’s excessive sense of order. There is nothing more to the conflict than that. Now we are going to evaluate the conflict.

  1. Evaluation

What does the conflict mean for Holger? If he has compulsive personality traits, which seems to be the case here, then it is a thoroughly threatening situation for him. It almost hurts him physically to see the hair lying around. So, you could ask Holger how much he feels disturbed by the hair lying around; e.g. on a scale from 1-10. Does he answer, e.g. with 8, then he evaluates his situation for himself and Eva understandably? Both have then a clear, shared idea of ​​the intensity of the conflict that triggers the conflict.

What does the conflict mean for Eva? If Eva has an opinionated streak, does not like to be dictated to and has a stubborn head, then she will hardly see that she should obey Holger’s request. She will interject that this is Holger’s problem and not hers. Here, too, an assessment that is understandable for both is useful. To what extent is Eva willing, on a scale of 1-10, to clear away her hair as requested by Holger. Does she say, e.g. 1, it will be difficult for both of them to agree? If, on the other hand, she says 8, then it is more likely to find a solution to the conflict.

  1. Find a solution strategy

Often, relationships are about compromise. If there is a willingness on both sides, then it usually goes on very quickly and easily. If that is not the case, then it helps to get Goldangel on board. If both sides are ready, nothing stands in the way of developing a solution strategy. Questions like: do we manage this together or do we need advice and help, when do we tackle it, where do we do it, etc. help create a plan. That might sound like an exaggeration, but it isn’t. Relationship conflicts are essential and should be recognized accordingly – they deserve to be taken seriously. I think there is nothing wrong with, e.g. plans a weekend together in a beautiful place and deals with a solution to the conflict there.

  1. Conflict resolution

I really like the term contract for such matters. Eva and Holger have created a common, valuable and lovable companion. Whom? Right, it’s Goldangel. If they manage to jump over their own shadow, then only both can benefit. The conflict serves its most important purpose – it brings us forward in our development. We grow from it, both personally and in our social skills. Eva and Holger will make a compromise. Both will give in a little and receive a great gift in return. Goldangel will give both a lot of love, familiarity, adventure, tenderness, security, joy and what is hard to believe, infinite freedom. It’s his way of saying thank you.

It is crucial for me to share my thoughts on conflict. I suffer more from the way many people deal with conflict than from the many negative traits that have also made life difficult for me. I am certainly not the only person who has been wrongly drawn into disputes, accused and verbally abused. Sometimes I had my share in the conflicts, sometimes not. But one thing is sure – for everything that has happened to me, I am fully responsible. For my golden angel, however, only half. These halves are the most precious in my life. So what is more evident than supporting them.

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