August 2013


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Using Conflict to Bring You Closer

By Marianne Oehser

All couples fight. It's not whether you argue - but how you go about it that matters. Conflict in a relationship is normal because a marriage is the union of two individuals who bring different personalities and different needs into the relationship. Unfortunately, most of us have not learned how to fight fairly. We learned how to either avoid the conflict or escalate it but not how to resolve it.

Research shows that all couples - happy ones and troubled ones - disagree about the same basic issues: money, kids, sex, housework, in-laws, and time. Successful couples even have the same number of disagreements as couples who divorce. The difference is successful couples know how to move through the conflict in a way that brings them closer together rather than creating more distance between them.

An argument is usually not really about whatever sparked the fight. There is always a deeper, hidden issue that is fueling the conflict and making it more intense than it otherwise would be.

For example, you might be fighting about having spent too much money on holiday gifts. That likely triggers a bigger issue that neither of you may even be fully aware of. It may be that one of you has a deep fear of not having enough money to take care of the family properly. That fear is based on an event or belief that is rooted in the past and may not even be supported by today's reality. But unconsciously that fear is very real and it is creating most of the emotion in the fight you are having now. It is said that 10% of the emotion in any relationship conflict is from the event that triggered the disagreement. The other 90% comes from the deeper issue.

In fact, if you don't ever fight you might be hurting your physical and emotional health. Not experiencing conflict in a relationship means that either there is not enough intimacy or not enough emotional safety in the relationship. When that happens one or both spouses either see dissention as a threat that could deteriorate the relationship or they do not feel emotionally safe enough share themselves. If you avoid conflict or are afraid of it, work with a professional to uncover the cause so you can learn to experience the benefits of conflict.

Think of conflict as an opportunity. In the heat of the battle that certainly is not how it usually feels. So where in the world is the opportunity?

Let's look at how an argument usually unfolds. It starts with a difference. It could be a difference of opinion, a difference of objectives, or just something small that has been festering - like a pinch in your shoe that has become a sore blister. Whatever the cause, you and your spouse find yourselves in a disagreement. Conflict has arrived and it often erupts with an emotional explosion.

At this critical point both spouses have a choice. Do I react or do I respond?

When we react, one of the Four Horsemen often appears. Dr. John Gottman, a renowned sociologist who pioneered ground breaking understanding of how relationships work, applied that metaphor in the couple's relationship world. His Four Horsemen are Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling. When one of them appears it is much more difficult to resolve the situation in a productive way.

When two people can take a deep breath and let their emotions calm down a bit, they are more likely to be able to respond to the situation in a productive way. Positive dialogue that allows both spouses to be heard and understood can lead to a resolution that is a win for both of them.

So where is the opportunity in conflict? Actually there are two opportunities. When a couple is able to navigate through the turbulent waters of a disagreement in a productive way they usually end up feeling more connected to each other than they did before the whole thing started.

It is also an opportunity to investigate what is beneath the surface that was triggered by whatever started the fight in the first place - the thing what is responsible for 90% of the emotion.

After the conflict is over and you want to restore harmony, face each other, make eye contact, hold hands, and synchronize your breathing for a few moments. A long, warm hug works too. Both will help you re-establish the connection between you.

Copyright © 2013 by Marianne Oehser. All rights reserved in all media. Used with permission.

Marianne Oehser is a Certified Relationship Coach for Couples and Singles. She owns Between Two Hearts, LLC which specializes in helping clients work through mid-life transitions, such as retirement, empty-nests, single again, and remarrying in mid-life. She received her training trough Relationship Coaching Institute, the largest international relationship coaching training organization.

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Ask Our Coaches

I'm too tired for sex... help!

Dear Coaches,

My husband doesn't understand why I'm too tired for sex. After work, I pick up the kids from daycare and cook dinner. After dinner, my husband and I play with and take care of the kids, and do a variety of household chores. When we go to bed, my husband is raring to go, but the last thing I have on my mind is sex - I'm tired! He doesn't understand why I'm too tired, when he's been just as busy as me. Help! This is driving us crazy!

~ No passion in New Jersey

Nina responds ...

A woman's desire for sex often starts with emotional connection. If the two of you never have a weekly date or a moment alone together each day, making love to your husband is like servicing the mailman, and you wouldn't want to do that (unless maybe the mailman knows more about you and your interests than your hubby does).

Start courting each other again. Steal time to be alone together and converse about your private thoughts and feelings, hopes and dreams. That's why you were more eager back then. You were still busy and tired, but you made each other a priority.

Ask yourself if you're using the kids and chores as an excuse to avoid sex. Is a clean and tidy house more important than having a healthy marriage?

Ask each other what you each get from making love. Is it relaxation, stress relief, escape, bonding, fun? What are some more important things you might be giving and receiving from it? Ask him if you have to make it a performance each time. Would he be open to you being passive on those nights when you're tired and he has all the energy?

Nina Potter |

Denise responds ...

Research shows a man's mind is motivated by the "reward system" whereas a women's mind is motivated by the "reset system".

When a man performs a job, finishes a project, or ends a hard day, he rewards himself by reading a newspaper, playing with technology, watching his favorite sports team, having a cocktail, or enjoying his partner, for a job well done.

Most women will finish a long hard day with the kids, complete a difficult project at work and need to recharge her lost energy by taking a bath, connecting with a girlfriend, or getting a restful night's sleep, taking in energy that she has lost.

Your husband may just need to know that you still enjoy being with him sexually and sex is how a man connects emotionally.

Try nurturing this connection by sending him provocative texts and offer him a promise of a definite day and time of intimacy that he could look forward to each week, whether it be sneaking away on a weekend or ducking into a bath together after tucking the kids in.

That way the pressure will be off you when you are recharging and the promise that awaits him feeds his virility.

Denise Wade Ph.D. |

Susana responds ...

You show great courage in speaking honestly and seeking help.

I do not hear you saying you like the way things are but rather that you would like some understanding and help from your hubby.

Explain your exhaustion and ask for his help. He appears to have the energy. Perhaps he could spend time with the children alone while you recharge in a bath or a 20 minute brisk walk, or, he can take responsibility for picking up the kids or dinner one night to allow you some down time or, if weekdays are impossible, make a date to connect with your man on the weekend? While planning intimate time may reduce spontaneity, making time to connect is critical. I do not hear you want to maintain the passionless status.

You each can take turns planning for your intimate meet and make it something creative and fun to look forward to doing together. This is going to require you to speak your heart and for to both be willing to speak openly and creatively about rekindling your passion. Sometimes one or two session with a coach can help you learn to effectively speak to each other about the situation.

Susana D. Gonzalez|

Anita responds ...

It's no new news on the men/Mars vs. women/Venus thing. It is said that women prefer conversation, cuddle/comfort time and sleep to relieve stress, and men well, they prefer dot, dot, dot.

But celebrate - you still have your mojo! He wants you. He really, REALLY wants you. Now, how can you fit in you "wanting him" back within all the other non-sensual demands life has commanded you to address? Look at your daily grind. What can be eliminated, or reduced in time, from the tasks for one day in your week? Maybe even two or more days?

Maybe having the children with a sitter, helpful friend or relative for playtime; maybe putting off one or two household chores and letting the house be tousled for a day; maybe he can decide to participate by taking a half day off of work to have a morning just for you two in the boudoir. By both of you coming up with an adventurous, unorthodox plan to bring back that lovin' feelin', you both may discover the fun love that's been missing, and so deeply deserve to have.

Anita Myers |

Dr. Le responds ...

Anyone who has had a full day’s work like yours would feel depleted by the end of the day.

I'm curious, though. If it were not for all the responsibilities, would you enjoy sex with your husband? If yes, then the solution is quite simple. Have a talk with your husband and let him know how the demands of the day affect your desire for sex.

My bet is that he would be more than willing to take on more once he understands your situation.

Aside from eliciting your husband's help, what can you do to lighten your load? Might I suggest the following? Minimize meal preparation by using simple recipes or prepare meals ahead of time. As for time with the kids, consider this time for yourself while your husband strengthens his bond with the kids. Finally, with house chores, you may want to weigh your priorities between, say, having laundry done, or deepening your relationship by having couple's "fun time."

Dr. Le Doan |

Barbara responds ...

Not knowing your age or having any other history on you, let?s first rule out any medical problems or hormonal imbalances before simply addressing the fact that you have no passion from being too busy; especially since your husband claims to be just as busy, with passion.

Sounds like you have good quality family time together. This is good. If you guys still love each another and want the relationship to be healthy, consider getting a baby sitter and scheduling some couple time with a regular date night, alternating the responsibility on who does what, when, where, and how to set it up.

Because this will not be resolved overnight, it's important to be patient with one another while "working" through the issue and making this a win-win for all concerned. While being too tired is an excuse, it does not justify placing too many things in front of what's really important to the both of you. It might be time to make some adjustments in your lives and schedules by making a list, organizing it, and then prioritizing what is no longer working, to renegotiating something that is a little more flexible and doable.

Barbara A Williams |

This column answers questions submitted by our readers. Submit your question here and it will be forwarded to our coaches all over the world. Each issue, we'll publish a few answers from our RCI coaches.


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