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Awareness Magazine
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The Myth of Inevitable Conflict within a Relationship

By Phil and Maude Mayes


All of us have heard over and over that conflict is inevitable within a relationship. The common view is that we must deal with this conflict and learn to work through it. We believe that the essence of this myth is a fallacious assumption. Although well-meaning, this attitude often leads to unnecessary separateness and estrangement between couples. It perpetuates the view that the partners are separate and on different sides. It reinforces differences such as gender and personality, and instead of making them something potentially positive, presents them as obstacles to be overcome.

This is not so. Instead, differences are something to celebrate, and rather than leading to an inevitable conflict, can be a strength which helps a couple thrive.

There is a simple and surprisingly powerful way of approaching problem solving and decision making that can transform your interactions. Do not allow your differences to push you into the mistaken assumption that you and your partner are on separate sides. Just because you can’t see a mutual solution yet doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. If you agree on core values, there is always a solution that works for both of you. The trick is to find it. Keep in mind at all times that you are seeking a place where you both agree. Treat your partner’s position as an additional way to see the issue, not as a denial of your needs.

This can be challenging to attain in practice. We are used to conflict being our normal response, but the pattern can be changed by making a different choice. Create a basic format (or ritual, if you will) that you use for problem-solving and decision-making. Start out by holding hands or being in physical contact, and proclaim to each other that you are on the same side and are looking for a place of mutual agreement.

The way forward is for each person to state what they feel and what they want in turn. Avoid using the word “you” (the finger-pointing you); instead, speak personally. Say “I’m cold”, rather than “You pulled the blanket off of me.”  Here you are saying how you feel, and not what the other person did.

By phrasing it this way, two things are different. Firstly, it is no longer an accusation of the other person’s behavior, so it does not provoke a defensive response (“No I didn’t”) or a counter-attack (“Well, so do you.”) It is merely a statement of how the world is for you. Secondly, a statement in the first person is an act of intimacy, a revealing of your self. By speaking about your own feelings, you offer closeness and invite empathy.

After you speak from the “I” of your feelings and wants, then listen to your partner doing the same. Do not interrupt each other. As this process unfolds, the situation will change for both of you. Each of you knows what your partner feels and wants. You have more information. Keep sharing, and you will find other possibilities arise that you did not see before. This is how a mutual solution begins to emerge. Trust that such a place can always be found. Remember, no decision or solution works unless it is a mutual one.

Don’t fall off the wagon! Every time you feel yourself losing contact with your partner and getting defensive or argumentative, remember you are in this together, and return to the emotional connection you committed to at the start. Believe a result is possible, even if you might not see it yet, and that the two of you want to reach it together. Reaffirm to your partner that you want to reach a solution or decision that is good for both of you.

If your partner slips, don’t join him or her; instead, help them back by remaining committed to a shared solution. This is the point at which you can make a conscious choice to act differently. One small change will cause a different reaction, and the entire discussion can take an alternate path. By refusing to let conflict in, even if it comes from your partner, your response can change the entire tenor of the exchange.

Most of all, it is important to remember that this is not some hard, heavy struggle. You are playing; sharing your individual selves while actively co-creating the “we”. This is a dance you are doing together. Make it light and joyful.

Phil and Maude have been writing and speaking about peaceful relationships for many years. They co-authored the book Secrets of a Successful Relationship and are currently working on a second book. They are committed to the understanding that conflict is not inevitable, and that relationships can be the inspiration for peace on earth. Visit them at