middle aged couple sitting on the couch arguing struggling to manage conflict

The Art of Genuine Relating: Mastering Conflict in Relationships

Conflict management is an integral part of maintaining healthy relationships, whether they be personal, familial, or professional. As a gestalt psychotherapist specialising in genuine relating, I have observed that conflicts often escalate into battles where the real issue becomes obscured by a power struggle. This struggle is characterised by a ‘last word’ syndrome, where one party feels the need to conclude the argument on their terms, often exacerbating the conflict.

The key to resolving conflicts is not to engage in the heat of the moment – the ‘red zone’ – but to step back, cool down to ‘blue’, and approach the situation from a place of self-reflection. This pause allows individuals to move away from blame and towards understanding their own feelings and needs.

Understanding one’s conflict style is crucial and often rooted in childhood and how one was taught to handle disagreements. Identifying our personal triggers and the patterns we fall back on can illuminate why conflicts escalate and how we may inadvertently contribute to them.

To manage conflict effectively, one must take ownership of their role in the disagreement and strive for self-responsibility. This includes recognising the ‘rupture’ in the relationship – the point where the connection is strained or broken – and actively working towards repairing it.

Healing these ruptures involves a withdrawal into oneself to truly grasp the emotions at play. Instead of pointing fingers, the focus should be on expressing one’s feelings and taking responsibility for one’s part in the conflict. Through this, we can attempt to repair the connection.

In therapy, we explore these ruptures further by employing tools like finger puppets to metaphorically represent the process of disconnection and reconnection. This aids in visualising the expansion and contraction of the relational space between individuals.

Another crucial aspect of conflict management is vulnerability. In a state of conflict, the flight or fight response can lead to a shutdown, which is the opposite of vulnerability. To restore vulnerability and trust, we must re-establish a safe environment where individuals can open up without fear.

Men, in particular, can struggle with vulnerability due to societal expectations and personal history. Many men have not been taught or encouraged to express vulnerability, which can create a significant barrier in intimate relationships. Counseling can provide the tools to unlearn these protective mechanisms and foster deeper connections.

In conclusion, genuine relating and conflict management in relationships involve understanding the origins of our conflict styles, taking responsibility for our actions, and working towards re-establishing trust and vulnerability. This journey is not always straightforward, but through insight, reflection, and sometimes with the aid of therapy, healthier and more meaningful relationships can be forged.

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