Posted by: Debbie Loyd | October 15, 2010

What’s Underneath a Conflict

As we saw in the last blog, we tend to explain differences between us and our partner by labeling our partner. Seeing our partner as having a defect or being the problem makes conflict more difficult to resolve.  Empathy involves considering external pressures. I would like to expand on this. Sometimes we are not really fighting about what we think, especially when we have the same conflicts repeatedly. Karen Heitler, author of The Angry Couple: Conflict-Focused Treatment, explains that we often have underlying issues, including fears, desires, and values.

Fears can be a huge factor in conflicts: fear of loss of control, fear of failure or inadequacy, fear or rejection, fear of strong affect, and fear of intimacy. For example, a couple having difficulty discussing vacation plans may actually be dealing with a more general issue of control. People can become very sensitive to certain fears because of their experiences growing up. We all come to relationships with a certain “lens”  from our past. Just because we feel our partner is being a certain way (e.g. controlling), doesn’t mean they are. What is important is NOT who’s right, but caring about and respecting each other’s experiences and feelings.

Identifying desires and needs is important. Perhaps one has a desire or need for validation which gets lost in the midst of the argument. Perhaps the desire for financial security is driving another’s criticisms.

Values are a little more general than needs and desires, so they can be harder to identify.  When people think of values, they often think of morals or what “should” be done. There are many other values people have: health, peace, truth, being close to family, safety, success, aesthetics, being in style, education, genuineness, adventure, trustworthiness, self-expression, honor, preferring natural rather than synthetic, simplicity, etc. What I value may be reflected more in my actions than my words—how I treat other people, how I treat myself, how I raise my children, how I spend my money and free time, what kinds of goals I set and how I go about achieving those, my political opinions, my attitude toward those less fortunate than myself, and my health habits.

Once fears, desires, and values have been recognized, it will be much easier to create win-win solutions that will leave both people feeling heard and cared about.

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