MAINTAINING THE STATUS QUO

route-66

 

 

 

“Route 66”

“If you ever plan to motor west,

Travel my way, take the highway that is best.

Get your kicks on Route Sixty-Six.”

The Open Highway

For relationships to be healthy, meaningful and satisfying we should measure them with more than just ‘longevity’ as the sole matrix.  Relationship should last because they’re beneficial and good for the parties involved, and because both parties desire the relationship to do so.  The key then once a relationship has become set in a stable and relatively predictable state is how to manage that status quo over the course of time.  An appropriate analogy would be that of the Great American Road Trip where the destination in which you’re going to, in many cases, is less important than the overall experience of the trip, the unplanned and planned excursions you take along your journey and the quality of time spent with your partner on the open road together, but like most things can be ruined by common minor elements, that build up over time or a single major fouling.  Keep in mind that a negative has been proven to offset a positive at a ratio of 8:1, and therefore the majority of what we will cover are those elements where we typically get in our own way of relationship health, stability and satisfaction.

 Letting go of the wheel

Our gender schemas are deeply embedded within our own cognitive and social frameworks regarding what defines masculine and feminine and the roles for each.  Social agents work to formalize, instruct and to guide us in these roles, which are often at odds with biology and unspoken expectations and negotiated agreements established through behavior within the relationship.  One of the clearest examples of this is ‘who leads and manages the relationship?’ (who’s driving the relationship), which was negotiated through unspoken expectations and behavioral actions in the beginning of the relationship and the problems that become of it when that early agreement is renegotiated at a later stage.  At its core, relationships begin to fail when a man let’s go of the leadership obligations he’s entrusted with and is expected to carry out.  I’ll let Greg Swann, a good friend, philosopher and thorn in many people’s side, pick up the argument in a blog post he did a while back;

“Do you dispute this? He was in charge of the relationship from the beginning. He initiated it. He nurtured it. He pursued it. He escalated it. And he put the ring on it. Is any of that untrue?

He is the leader of that marriage, and he is the only leader of that marriage, because the relationship exists only because he quite literally made it happen.”

Ladies, in the beginning, you were happy to forfeit agency, accountability and social equality in lieu of privileges your gender is offered in traditional social structure, but now once comfortable and secure within the relation, seek additional benefits and privileges by renegotiating those terms under a la carte feminist ideals, prerogatives and sense of entitlement…  which technically is fine, but just don’t be surprised and blame your partner, when your relationship fails or you file for divorce because you were “unhappy” (leading cause stated for divorce, of which women initiate +70% of the time).  If your ‘happiness’ did depend upon your partner to provide it (as claimed) and you’ve taken the responsibility, accountability and agency from them to do so… sorry cupcake, that’s your fault.  I can totally empathize with women and understand the desire to grab a wheel of a moving vehicle when the driver isn’t in command of the vehicle (relationship) or is absent-minded and distracted from his duties.  Your job is NOT to grab the wheel and wrestle for control, but to wake him to his deficit.  Should that fail, you’d both be better off if you where honest and upfront about it and took a different journey with an appropriate man behind the wheel…  Guys, should you have any passenger grab the wheel of your relationship and attempt to steer it, I would immediately pull over and let them off at the side of the road.  This would be true for ANY passenger; her, her friends, parents, sibling, children and to include your family, friends, etc… otherwise, if you’ve decided you’re just going to ride, don’t get behind the wheel in the first place.  On the other hand, if you are truly interested in maintaining the status quo that you had when you first started dating; learn to drive; whether that’s a Ferrari, mini-van or school bus.

Falling asleep behind the wheel

A significant issue to long-term relationships is the compliancy that comes with the security of a stable and predictable relationship.  We simple invest less energy into the relationship, because it doesn’t demand it and we fail to ask for it.  We fall prey to a comfortable trance, that turns into monotony,  that dulls our sense of spirit and adventure.  We can address this by not falling asleep to relationship maintenance elements of sustainment, stability, quality and relational dialectical tensions.  As partners we should carefully drive the course of the relationship between these lane markers associated with balancing these relationship maintenance elements and towards our objective goal.  And much like lane dividers and rumble strips, we should communicate to our partner and they us, when the relationship is veering from these guide lines and for us to then take action and properly steer back onto our course.

Driving within your ability

Far more sinister and damaging is the increased compliancy associated with not having our emotional, physical and sexual needs met within the relationship, nor holding frank, open and honest discussion regarding these with our partner.  This is in large part due to a number of factors that we fear holding these discussions, whether from the built up relationship equity, the fear of conflict and where this known conflict may lead, a lack of our abilities to hold, manage and appropriate conflict accordingly and any personal and social stigmas we may feel are attached to these sentiments, desires and needs, can and often hold us back from essential sharing and critical emotional communication with our partner.  We fear the risk to our comfort, more than we do our own authenticity and the health of the relationship.  By not establishing a case history and success within the relationship of being open and vulnerable to express our feelings, desires or needs, we subjugate these feelings and any solution that may be available, to an unhealthy status quo.  We simply will not risk testing the strength of our relationship in a significant way, where it hasn’t been proven capable of in a lesser way.  This of course poses a paradox between comfort and growth, defined by the saying “there’s no growth in the comfort zone” and the fact that relationship should be grown over time.   The status quo of personal and relationship development is advancement, which fundamentally means change.   As such, it would be wise to take the relationship only as fast and on a course, in which we can safely manage, but to steadily increase our ability to do so.  Are you advancing your knowledge, skill and experience base consistently to advance yourself and the relationship in an effort to stay together?  Do you have a repertoire of skills from which you can draw upon for difficult situations and are you adding to them on a regular basis?  This is your skill set and ability to drive a relationship safely and effectively.   If we cannot hold a conversation about minor relationship concepts of respect of property or space, such as shutting cabinet doors after use, how do we expect to hold an honest and open conversation about our partners in ability to hold our sexual attraction and meet our needs of intimacy?  To span this sort of gulf between us and our partner we need to already have established a setting of trust, respect and safety for already having navigated simpler, less stressful and dangerous situations.  Our abilities and skills need to be proven or the speed of the relationship needs to be slowed to the degree in which we can safely navigate these challenges.  We must also be keenly aware that the environmental conditions in which we find the relationship play significantly into our abilities to manage these tasks… the more adverse the conditions, the more care we should take in response.  This ultimately means we should not be advancing  any relationship beyond the limits of proven ability- a girlfriend with whom we cannot be committed to being fully honest, open with and that has sound conflict management skills (girlfriend track) should never be taken onto the marriage track under any circumstances where the risks, dangers and consequences are far greater.

The Sing-Along

The ‘sing-along’ is a time-tested ritual utilized to pass the time, break the monotony and to bond participants together as a group.  These songs are often central to our sense of identifying with those experiences and the timeframe in which they existed in our lives.  As children they may have been children’s songs or common folk songs.  As we get older they are replaced by anthems of youthful vitality, independence and freedom.  The question becomes then ‘what is the soundtrack of your relationship?’ and ‘what are you doing do foster it?’.  Playful relationship rituals thus become key to entertaining each other through the passing of time, to break the monotony of the rigors and stresses of life, to bond you and your partner together and to keep our interest in each other vibrant and alive.

Running out of gas

It isn’t a road trip if you can complete the journey on a single tank of gas… knowing the general range and context of your relationship travels will help you to manage the essential elements of individual and relationship ego depletion (emotional energy), of which there is only a limited amount, prior to exhaustion.  Just like a car, we can run on empty, as long as we’re constantly re-filling our emotional reserves and we are within range of those services, but should we knowingly face a journey in which that range and services will exceed our current reserve, we’d be wise to prepare for that in advance of that journey or as soon as possible, once we realize it.  To maintain a relationship in a healthy status quo we need to make sure that the degree of individual and relationship self-care exceeds the stresses and demands placed before us and the relationship.  This is where an emotional and empathic partner is invaluable.  Too often we will run ourselves low and to a breaking point, and they can identify it and help us to remediate the effects of stress through active de-stressing techniques, increasing simple acts of intimacy and uplifting our spirits in a wide variety of ways. 

(*** bonus tip for the ladies;  if you list being ‘sarcastic’ as an attribute on your dating profile…good men see this as a warning flag and will naturally avoid you out of self-interest and preservation.  Being ‘sarcastic’ means you’re only destructive- sarcasm never builds, it only destroys.  Who honestly thinks they can build a relationship, let alone a life, with anyone who’s valued attribute and nature is to destroy?)    

 

The Pit Stop

On any great journey there is going to be a need to take care of a wide variety of personal and relationship type needs.  Much like a pit stop on a road trip, these are the times in which basic service and maintenance checks and services should be completed.  We should be asking our partners about their relationship satisfaction, even if you’re aware of their general feelings of happiness and satisfaction, there’s always room for removing stray bugs that smear and litter our relationship windshields.  These are the points in which we should be checking the levels of relationship communication and making sure that the mechanisms of sharing and expression are well lubricated.  How’s the alignment of the relationship tires?  Are they properly inflated and is tread wear within service life conditions?  Verifying, tending and reinforcing relationship boundaries needs and expectations are all critical to safe (drama free) and efficient running relationship.  Soliciting feedback will be more accurate than solely utilizing observation techniques to gauging this.  We should also plan on these occasions relationship planning; checking the course, direction, distance and destinations in which you both intend to take the relationship to make sure that the relationship and life journey is mutually satisfying for both of you.

Settling for Winona

Some trips are one-way affairs, with no intent upon returning back from whence you came.  The intent is to take the relationship to a particular destination and for it to permanently reside there.  I began this post with the analogy of the Great American Road Trip and I specifically kept the ideal Route 66 in mind.  Now I’d like to add to it just a little bit…  That highway was originally the route settlers took starting from Chicago to go to California and was utilized to avoid crossing the Rocky Mountain and the Sierra Nevada mountain ranges, which was consider very risky and dangerous for the time.  The song by the same name, Route 66, delineates stopping points, towns and cities of that journey within its lyrics;

 It winds from Chicago to LA,
More than two thousand miles all the way.
Get your kicks on Route sixty-six.

Now you go through Saint Looey
Joplin, Missouri,
And Oklahoma City is mighty pretty.
You see Amarillo,
Gallup, New Mexico,
Flagstaff, Arizona.
Don’t forget Winona,
Kingman, Barstow, San Bernandino.

On a two thousand mile journey, a lot can and more often than not, does happen, especially if you’re a settler in ox pulled carts, let alone in an air-conditioned convertible (Yes, people actually do drive with the top down and AC on full- its awesome).  There is a notion in the West that where some people’s wagon wheels broke, they settled, for failure of financial capital, resources, knowledge or sheer gumption prevented them from settling where they initially intended or set out for.  In the frontiers of relationship development, if your choice destination is that of California, make sure that you plan and prepare for these types of predictable occurrences, so that you do indeed settle in California instead of Winona and that relationship management, maintenance and repair are a part of your relationship status quo.

MAINTAINING DIALECTICAL TENSIONS

Yin-Yang

“Build bridges and walls to include as well as exclude”

Dialectic what?

A dialectic tension is the perceived contradiction in personal relationships between two desirable goals or values that appear to be opposing tendencies, desires and needs…but are in fact both desirable to various degrees.  In light of this, dialectic tensions shouldn’t be viewed as ‘either/or’ but ‘both/and’ when it comes to maintaining these coupled tensions and their integration within a relationship.  The importance of balancing of emotional values in a relationship is to recognize that these values are always in motion and as importantly, that the seed of the opposing value lies within the first and vise versa.  These tensions have been symbolically recognized for centuries by the ancient symbol of ‘Yin and Yang’; where fluid and dynamic elements circle each other and each carrying an element of the other within them.  The most common tensions found within relationships are questions of;

Companionship vs Independence

These are the push-pull desires of wanting to connect with your partner and wanting to preserve your personal independence, or how dependent the romantic partners are with each other.  The degree of comfort within the relationship is the degree to which both parties understand the boundaries of the other, the emotional and physical space each is either giving or taking and to the degree of happiness to this agreement is.  In most relationships, these boundaries are negotiated reactively rather than actively and are initial points of friction within an emerging relationship.   

Candor vs Privacy

These are the tensions at arise between desiring to engage in self-disclosure, as opposed to maintaining a degree of privacy.  In most relationships this involves to what degree that you share your thoughts, feelings, beliefs and past with your partner.  Two central themes that are great sources for tension within a relationship are the degree of self-revelations regarding past relationships and the fears and anxieties currently driving your state of mind being expressed by insecurities, negativity and pessimism.  While revelations in either are fine in moderation, it is when we hit our partners boundaries that we wear out our welcome of candor. 

Predictability vs Novelty

These tensions represent the seeking of behavior patterns between stability and the desire for spontaneity.  Frequently we lapse into a sense security and a behavior routine that is comfortable and easy for us which becomes boring.  The challenge here is to provide the consistency we trust upon, but not so much that it becomes mundane by balancing between the expected and the unexpected.  More critically though, is recognizing a contextual shift with our partners, especially those times in which they are worn, tired and ego-depleted.  It is at these times we are better served by reaching for the familiar and trusted to help in assuaging a sense of exhaustion within our partner’s lives.

Maintenance Strategies

By far the most common strategies for maintaining relational tensions within a stabilized relationship is a selection and emphasis of a dominant poles, such as placing a high value on levels of connection, openness and predictability, followed with a temporary cycling of independence, privacy and novelty.  When incorporated intentionally, the emotional desyncing and resyncing are renown for fostering deep feelings of arousal, attraction and connection within a partner, as witness by the literary work of the world’s various Casanovas’s  and  the center pieces of dime-store romance novels.  This intentional emotional cycling is often considered the bulwark against a woman’s initial hypergamous reflex of feeling ‘unhappy’ within the confines of an all too stable relationship.  Other strategies include segmenting or compartmentalizing access to and from various value elements.  A common example would be having  the ritual of ‘a night out with the boys’.  A particular one to be on the lookout for is reframing, where a partner states that they are ‘just going through a phase’.   This is typical of individuals who do not fully understand the flux of relational tensions coupled with inadequate communication skills and relational trust and respect to investigate these emotional needs appropriately and therefore are unlikely to cope or manage these tensions effectively or appropriately.  The most sinister of these ‘phases’ is an unchecked woman’s hypergamous nature.  A woman ignorant or unwilling to face her terribly destructive nature is not maintaining tensions by harmonically alternating the back and forth between them, but dumping her partner and her children on the teeter-totter of life in the name of naked sexual self-interest.

Turning Points

When there is a shift in value of a given dialectic from one polarized end towards another without an oscillation back, this is known as a turning point.  In early relationships we see this primarily when a dating couple decides to become exclusive and committed to each other.  The dialectic of independence moves and resides more fully with companionship.  Later it may again intensify, when both partners in conjunction decide to advance their relationship civilly and socially in the form of marriage and family development.  The major concern of turning points is not when we emphasize a  pole mutually, but when it is sudden and the sentiment is anything but mutual.  These turning points can be so acute that we change our interpretation of the relationship, what it means to us and what place it has in our lives. Navigating these turning points without astute relational maintenance and management skills and open and honest communication all too frequently turn into open conflicts.  If left unattended to, the conflicts and tensions will not only do irrefutable harm to the relationship, but also to the individual parties, ultimately leading to the relationships destruction.  At this stage relationship repair is needed, not simple maintenance.  If relationship repair and re-negotiation cannot be achieved, then a dissolution of the relationship is in order at that point, before any unnecessary further harm is done.

External Tensions

Interestingly enough the same tensions that exist between two relationship partners also exist between the ‘couple’ and their relationships with their greater social networks, most notably between friends and family members.  While the dialectic tensions between conventionality and uniqueness of a relationship occurs with some couples, more often than not the degree of inclusion and privacy is one that has to be negotiated, or more aptly put, renegotiated.  Where one pair of the partnership had poor or weak personal boundaries with friends and family, those poor boundaries will surely be passed into the new relationship if left unchecked.  In instances such as this, it is far better to identify it and regulate it early before the behavior in question becomes codified and fully established within the relationship (deal with her Mother, before she’s your Mother-in-Law).

Managing Ego Depletion

Fuel-gauge

Men trip over mole hills, not mountains…

 

Limited supply of emotional energy

The problem with stating an obvious is that it doesn’t invoke introspection of the baseline idea or concept into our lives and how the obvious plays into our management and decision-making surrounding any number of issues that we face. They’re too easily glossed over. Much like an idea or concept hiding in plain sight, it’s just not seen. This is particularly true of the ego, the pool of emotional energy reserve utilized for self-control, decision-making and willpower. When this energy level is low, it typically impairs one’s ability to facilitate appropriate decision-making both on a personal level and on an interpersonal level which are exemplified by aggression, reduced ability to make trade-offs, decision avoidance, impulse decision-making and impaired self-regulation. Not quite what we want for a healthy relationship structure…

Emotional Muscle

Researchers in social psychology contend that the ego is much like a muscle, that it can be strengthened and built up over time through exercise. It is one of the reasons that older individuals tend to have more ego reserve than the young, is the fact at having lived longer lives and have as a consequence learned to manage this emotional reserve better through experience. And like any muscle, exercising it will drain and fatigue it, but given appropriate rest and refueling, it will grow stronger. But we don’t do that… we chronically strain ourselves and then pile on acute stresses on top of it, much like a cross-fitter who grossly over trains and ultimately ends up injuring themselves in the pursuit of health. When we chronically strain ourselves and then pile on acute stresses on top of it, we must increase the degree of self-care to counter it. If we don’t, we will be running ourselves on an emotional deficit and quickly become ego depleted and suffer the corresponding impaired, undesirable and maladaptive behaviors we wish to avoid in the first place.

A Morale Correlation

While there is a strong correlation between ego depletion and morale, one does not nessicitate the other though. An example is a marathon runner at the completion of a 26 mile run will suffer from a degree of ego depletion, in their ability to make cognitive processes the same way, as if they were well rested- they’re simply exhausted, but will likely be in high morale for having completed a strenuous task. This would be an example of an acute stressor with high morale. If the same marathon runner was then told they would have to walk back, now a chronic stress, we could expect morale to drop dramatically. The same is true in reverse, that we can give fuel to the ego, by ways and means of increasing morale. A relationship partner suffering from chronic or severe acute ego fatigue is a leading indicator for poor morale and future relationship ability impairment. If left unaddressed or mismanaged it can lead to very deleterious behaviors that ultimately lead to the relationship’s failure. How many people are led to cheating on their partners due to sustained chronic stresses built up within their relationship, or external forces acting on it? Learning to identify factors giving rise to ego fatigue, monitoring yours and your partners levels of emotional reserve and countering the effects of ego depletion are tremendous skills to utilize to avoid bigger issues down the road and sustaining a healthy long-term relationship.

 

Managing Morale

Altimeter

“Low morale comes with a high price tag”

Relationship altitude

Relationships face a number of growing pressures over time that tax the capabilities of the individuals within them and inhibit the ability of the partners to enjoy and benefit derived from being in the relationship to begin with. These can be as simple as long-days, the day-to-day stresses of a job, endless household chores and just loosing focus or more acutely being burdened by mounting pressures and expectations found throughout life in and outside of the relationship. They can often be found in latent and unresolved issues or conflicts, or the feelings associated with invalidation when we’re taken for granted and our contributions are ignored, forgotten or unappreciated. It is important to recognize that morale is a nebulous emotional energy state, and like all energies, it is in constant flux depending upon how that energy is utilized. It can drive a relationship forward or serve as the fuel that feeds relationship discontent depending upon how those states are managed. Good leaders and managers know that morale is their responsibility and is established from the top down and that morale has both an individual and group (relationship between parties) component to this human phenomenon. That is, the leader within any organization is responsible for managing an individual’s individual morale and then managing the morale for the relationship- people first, relationship second. Simply put, sick people don’t make for healthy relationships or organizations and great leaders manage this.

Leadership first

Short-term fixes create long-term problems, because they don’t address the issue. Energizing and motivating your team has its place, but should not serve as the foundation of morale. As the leader of the relationship it is your responsibility to set the tone, nature and culture for the morale of the relationships. It is determined by your overall presence, your masculinity as a man, through your thoughts, actions and the manner in which you carry yourself. It will be represented in the manner in which you respond and meet her hypergamous nature. How you demonstrate composure, reserve and calm, through steady control of emotions and maturity. It will be displayed in your confidence in knowing your capabilities, your belief in those skills and the actions you take proving those attributes. They will be on display when you face adversity, showing resilience in a tendency to recover quickly from a set-back, shock, or adversity and in maintaining purpose and focus when stressed. Good leaders know that emotions and emotional energy are contagious; that they are contagious between people. As such, they will utilize those attributes to their favor, by leading by example, showcasing and sharing positive traits and nipping negative traits in the bud, before they spread and grow. In this regard morale is viewed as a culture, not a band-aide, as your partner will need to have leadership they can believe in, before they can have faith in the relationship.

Individual morale

The world’s best militaries recognize that they must first respond to the needs of the individual soldier before that soldier can or will attend the needs of the higher organization. They do this by assuring that the individuals physical and emotional needs are met though good supply lines, hot food, sound cover, rest, relaxation and recovery, news from home, the quality and care of the equipment they will be utilizing and the training and support they receive. They further recognize that quality of life is serious business to their organizational mission and therefore have a uniformed approach to the care of the workforce and their families. That’s why on every major military installation you will find a myriad of services and infrastructure to support, sustain and strengthen the individual and their families. Likewise in relationships, we need to care for our partners first, before we consider caring for the relationship. We must have a firm understanding of our partner’s emotional and physical needs and address those needs. In turn we must then go beyond just the basics and attend to the quality of the life of our partner, as well as their basic needs, before we can expect them to focus on the relationship and relationship goals.

Relationship morale

In actively managing a relationship and the business of it, we must make certain that the relationship sticks to its core purpose. In simple terms this is benefits management. Are you actively managing the reasons why you and your partner are in a relationship with each other? Are those reasons being met? If this was a business model, are your employees getting paid on time? Are they compensated appropriately? Are they able to take sick leave and vacations, as needed and desired, or is that benefit package in name only, due to workload and staffing constraints? Is the working culture what was promised when they interviewed? Are their contributions and work efforts recognized and rewarded? Do they feel that they make a difference? As a corporation how competitive are you? Every high-tech company offers stock options, but how many offers high morale? Is it any wonder that those that do are coveted work places, draw superior talent due to it and tend to be more successful because of it? How does your relationship brand and culture compare? It should come as no surprise that measuring relationship satisfaction is correlated to relationship longevity… just how far have you prepared your relationship to go?

Managing Conflict

AngryCouple

“Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional”

The Nature of Relationship Conflict

Real conflicts in relationships are more than just elements associated with let downs, frustrations, incivility or broached boundaries. They’re deeper and more powerful than arguments and disagreements would at first appear. Relationship conflicts are situations where you or your partner perceive an emotional menace, whether that menace is real or imagined. What’s worse is that they tend to repeat and don’t go away from one relationship to another—that is, these menaces will travel with you into your next relationship and with a new partner. These are highly visceral reactions to situations that rationality will not clear away unless the phantoms that are driving this behavior are identified and addressed. It is important to realize that conflicts more central to issues of attachment and commitment will evoke not only a greater threat response from you or your partner, but are more likely to be the structural fault within your relationship and will be a leading candidate for that relationship failure. That is, unresolved emotional issues have a markedly disproportional negative effect on the health and viability of your relationships and as leaders and managers of our relationships we have a responsibility to lead and manage these.

The Nature of Conflict Avoidance

Much like the real issues driving emotional conflicts, conflict avoidance hides several significant motivators to avoid conflict interactions and serves as a good analogy to the hidden emotional issues behind conflicts. Most people can relate to a very basic element of conflict avoidance just because of the very nature of conflict itself; that it is absorbing, energy-consuming and honestly we want to believe that we have better things to do… but is that truly why we avoid conflict, or are there other issues that are really motivating us from venturing there? Would it be more true to recognize that we may be lacking conflict skills and have had a history of poor utilization of those skills and almost no recognizable ability to manage conflict in a healthy and productive way? Are we too afraid, feel too vulnerable or unsure how to bring to the light of day deeply guarded emotional issues with our partner? Are we honestly too insecure about the nature and true character of our relationship to test it in the crucible of conflict and are afraid to find out the reality of where it stands? Understanding these and any other motivator you may have to avoid conflict will be the first step you take to managing conflict within any relationship.

A Lack of Social Fluency

As children we go through the process of learning and developing a large number of social skills facilitating our interactions with others. One of the most important, but seldom taught or developed is conflict skills. And like all skills, unless as adults we continue to develop, nurture and hone our abilities, we’re slaves to the maturity skill level of our abilities of when we initially learned them, regardless of our actual age. It’s why you’ll see fully grown adults resorting to acting like children, because they honestly have no real ability to do otherwise. Their skill set is limited to that of a child’s. On a fundamental level the ability to hold constructive and healthy conflict sessions is a mark of maturity and one relegated to a fully developed adult. Children need to be taught the critical skills of collaborating with others, restraining anger escalation, rejecting shutting down and emotional withdrawal as a viable conflict management strategy and avoiding or changing destructive behavioral patterns of aggression, to resolve or manage conflict. If as an adult you have not developed those, have positive experience utilizing them and have confidence in your ability to enact these abilities, it’s time you sat down with your inner-child and have a heart-to-heart about developing them.

Emotional Gateway

In an emotional conflict people rarely convey the needs at the heart of the problem; the words being said isn’t what your partner is trying to communicate, the issue being addressed, isn’t really the true issue, as there is often a bigger issue behind a closed emotional door, that contains a very large emotional elephant. If we really listen to our partners, not only in what they are saying to us, but in the patterns of behaviors that bring us back to this same very place, time after time, we may come to realize that they are in fact bringing us to an emotional gateway. We ourselves may not even be aware of how deeply a particular issue from our past affected us, until a situation involving conflict has occurred to uncover it. Partners that don’t trust themselves, have the ability or established an operating pattern and history to discuss pertinent, at-risk issues appropriately will often utilize inappropriate methods to advance an issue into the forefront. They will start a minor conflict to segway the discussion into a larger and more important issue, that they feel inadequate discussing, often called a lead-in. A partner who fears holding a particular discussion due to fears of evoking abandonment issues, relationship flight (you leaving her) or heightened emotional insecurities, may in fact deny the presence of hidden issues, even when directly asked (she may not actually be even aware of it herself). We should be cognizant of this possibility and book mark emotional conflicts, so that if we keep returning to them, we can realize that there truly is something else there, even if our partner is unwilling to openly address it, or the fact we can’t see it. In such a case, finding and knocking on these emotional doors may not be enough. Our partners may continue to deny their existence. In such cases, it is not our responsibility to open those doors, it is our partner’s. If they choose to keep them shut and us out, we can only identify that we were aware, willing and offering a safe environment for them to share with us, but they are ultimately accountable for not doing so. Regrettably these issues tend to be the leading cause for relationship failures, known or otherwise and that is of their making, not ours.

The Crucible- a Test of Character

Emotional conflicts within relationships test the character of the relationship itself and can tell us as much about the relationship, as it does the individuals within the conflict. Just as we can deduce an individual’s social fluency by observing their social skill mastery, we can evaluate a relationship’s strength, health and vibrancy by observing how conflict is handled, regarded and managed within the relationship. Is the conflict not only addressed in a manner which seeks resolution by both partners, but do the partners separate the individual from the issue with tact and respect and do the partners utilize the source of conflict for greater understanding and comprehension of their partner? When done so, conflict can be a tremendous opportunity to lead to deeper respect, trust and intimacy. Conflict tests relationships and individuals more rigorously than other forms of interactions and can be very frightening because of it, but by developing our and our partner’s ability to handle, manage and constructively resolve conflict can we gain honest confidence in our relationship’s true strength and character, by having navigated through it.

Conflict Cost

We must learn to manage conflict because the risks involved in not doing so are very real and very, very costly. Appropriate conflict management prevents physical and psychological aggression within intimate relationships. We are vastly less likely to lash out with physical violence, in releasing engulfed rage and anger that has built up rapidly within a spiraling and unrestrained conflict setting. We are less likely to be physically domineering and physically aggressive, in an attempt to control or manage a situation where our skill sets have failed us. We are less likely to commit emotional and psychological harm in delivering vicious and insidious personal verbal attacks in moments of lost self-regulation. We are less likely to lose relationships that we have invested heavily in emotionally, physically, sexually, socially and financially. Beyond the total sum cost of any failed relationship, the cost of not developing conflict management skills is that this lack of ability will likely be handed down from Father to child. Parents that manage conflict appropriately are less likely to neglect or abuse their children and are more than likely to pass those positive behavior skill sets down to their children. The same hand that guides the Mother will be the same hand that guides his children.