The Myth of Inevitable Conflict within a
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
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