July 2015



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 © 2015 by Dr. Marianne Oehser and the Relationship Coaching Institute. 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 through Relationship Coaching Institute, the largest international relationship coaching training organization.

For more information visit www.Between2Hearts.com

Ask Our Coaches

My Wife Was Caught Sexting Another Man

Dear Coaches,

I caught my wife sexting with another man. I feel like she has cheated on me. She says she has not had a physical relationship with anyone else, and that it was just harmless fun, but to me it was still cheating.

How can I trust her? I feel hurt and confused. Please help.

~ Ian from Pennsylvania

Yehuda Ayalon

Yehuda responds ...

While sexting may seem like harmless fun to your wife, it means cheating to you even if you do believe her that nothing physical ever happened between them.

The cheating factor is the secrecy. She did not tell you about it. You found out, probably either by chance, or because you suspected something was going on. No feelings were mentioned in your short question, but you must be hurt and even shocked. Has your wife admitted that discovering her sexting was painful for you?

Even if she considers it just innocent flirt, you see it as cheating and you probably find it hard to discuss it with her. Have you considered meeting with a coach to try to re-establish communication about this touchy subject?

Have you asked her to do so, together or each of you separately?

I have no info about your relationship, but my hunch is that you want to repair it. You may use this as an opportunity to get closer to each other once you get over the hurt. I wish you can do this with the skilled support of a professional coach or therapist with experience in intimacy issues.

Yehuda Ayalon | Contact here

Denise Wade Ph.D.

Denise responds ...

I validate your feelings of betrayal. There are other forms of infidelity, including emotional infidelity. With emotional infidelity there is a breech of intimacy, vowed sacred, when we enter a marriage union.

You are likely feeling confused, because your wife is not acting in integrity. Her actions are saying one thing, her words another.

A person's actions, not their words, usually reveal their true character. Sexting may be harmless fun to her, but your value system may dictate otherwise. Sexting is sharing intimate arousing talk with the intent of creating lust and fantasy. She may actually assume that this is harmless fun on her part, but this may be naivety or dishonesty, as the guy on the receiving end may have full expectations of a blossoming sexual affair.

Sit down with her and define the definition of Emotional Fidelity as it aligns with your principles. Then have her define her principles. Do you both align in this area? If her actions do not align with her definition, then most likely she is not acting in integrity and has gotten caught. If she is unwilling to have this conversation, then you may want to seek a relationship coach individually.

Denise Wade Ph.D. | www.sweetharmony.net

Barbara A. Williams

Barbara responds ...

It can be a challenge to trust someone when you feel like she has cheated on you. Even though she says there has been no physical relationship, I get that it has been much more than "harmless fun" for you. If you haven't yet, express your thoughts and feelings to her so that she is clear on where you are coming from regarding her actions and behavior, and how important it is that this does not happen again.

This also sounds like a good time to either establish, or re-establish some boundaries, because evidently they are not as clear as you might like to think they are. If this just happened recently, give yourself time while trying to work through the situation. If it's been a while and you find yourself yet struggling to reconnect, or having a real difficult time rehashing things over and over in your head, it might be helpful to search for a counselor or relationship coach to support you through these challenges.

Barbara A. Williams | www.barbaraannwilliams.com

Lori Beals

Lori responds ...

It is understandable that you would feel hurt and confused by your wife sexting another man. I would suggest telling her how you feel, so you can feel heard and understood.

Set a time and decide on a place to talk. That gives her time to think about it and for you to think about or even write out ahead of time what you want to say. Talk to her about how everyone has needs in a relationship and especially a committed marriage. For example, if honesty and emotional intimacy are needs that you have you can start by telling her this. Honesty can mean not leaving out personal information about interactions that are sexual or flirty in nature.

Be open and transparent. RCI has a "Communication Map" that helps couples have conversations like these. You have a conversation where you are not blaming her but simply telling her your needs. Then ask her to repeat back what she thinks you mean so that you feel heard. Then you can make a request for her to not participate in sexting in order to meet your need for feeling safety and trust in the relationship.

Ask her if she is willing to honor this request. Then give her a chance to express how she feels about "this issue" of yours about her sexting. Stick to one issue at a time. Shelve other possible issues for another conversation and time. This is a way to slow down the process and be heard without blaming her. Once she agrees to stop sexting then accept this answer and drop it. Contact a coach if it feels unresolvable.

Lori Beals

The opinions stated are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the staff, members, or leadership of Relationship Coaching Institute.

This column answers questions submitted by our readers. Submit your question here www.relationshipcoach.org/ask-the-coach 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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