Category Archives: Conflict

Contempt:
“You’re always scowling at me!”

"Forlorn Heart" Julia Louis-Dreyfus, by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Contempt breaks the heart, because it implies that one person considers the other as undeserving of respect. Studies have shown that people who make sour facial expressions when their spouses talk are likely to be separated within four years. The dissolution of the relationship may take longer, but contempt will steadily and painfully eat away at a relationship, even when there are a few good times in between. In an atmosphere of contempt, partners find it difficult to remember any positive qualities about each other. So the vicious cycle of disdain and hurt gets worse and more irreversible with time.

It is crucial to break this cycle before it gets a stranglehold on the relationship. If your partner talks down to you, express your desire and need to be treated with love and respect. Be firm, but compassionate enough to be listened to. Try saying something like, “You may not be aware of this or mean anything by it, but you look as though you dislike me. Your facial expression makes me feel defensive and bad. I would love it if you could look at me with love and kindness.”

If your partner doesn’t get it, show him or her the research on relationships and contempt. Get any of John Gottman’s books, such as “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work,” that show the mathematical research on the effects of contempt on a relationship. Tell your partner that life is too short to spend time together if both of you are not willing to try to bring the best of yourselves to the relationship.

While you can’t control another person, you do have control over what kind of behavior you are willing to accept, and whom you spend time with. If your partner knows that you have the desire and courage to leave an unsatisfactory relationship you will retain power over your own life. If you’re determined not to let contemptuous behavior slide, your partner will be hard pressed to continue to treat you poorly. If the behavior continues despite your ongoing efforts, the only solution may be to limit or end the relationship before heartache and misery overwhelm you.

A loving relationship based on respect requires a sense of self-respect on your part. People who exude self-respect by stopping or withdrawing from others who talk down to them are more attractive than those who accept contempt. Expecting respect can be a more powerful aphrodisiac than unconditional acceptance. But it has to be backed up by the courage to remove yourself from an unhealthy relationship.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

John Gottman’s website.

Read “Criticism and Contempt.”

A Better Way to Break-Up: 20 Ways to Leave Your Lover
by GUEST AUTHOR Dr. Jennifer Freed with Molly Green

"Grazia" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Grazia” by Mimi Stuart ©

GUEST AUTHOR Dr. Jennifer Freed with Molly Green writes:

The dissolution of any romantic relationship is invariably painful: At its worst, it is devastating and harmful and leaves a lot of emotional collateral damage in its wake; at its best, it’s done with tenderness and care, and both parties put aside a desire to just be done with it in favor of taking the time to separate with patience and love. The latter is difficult to achieve, but ultimately a more expedient path to peace. Below, Dr. Jennifer Freed, a therapist, astrologer, and the founder of Santa Barbara’s AHA!, together with her colleague, Molly Green, explains what needs to be reckoned with.

Paul Simon suggested:

“You just slip out the back, Jack
Make a new plan, Stan
You don’t need to be coy, Roy
Just get yourself free
Hop on the bus, Gus
You don’t need to discuss much
Just drop off the key, Lee
And get yourself free”

This song hit a national nerve precisely because people tend to leave their lovers in the most hideous and harmful ways. There may be any number of causes or triggers—an affair (physical or emotional), growing disdain, physical rejection, addiction, and anger—but when the betrayal results in often-public drama and fireworks, rather than a calm, loving, and honest reckoning, it lays waste to all the joy the couple in question might have experienced together, coloring the entire relationship with pain. It begs the question: Why do so many people, who have often spent years loving one another, leave their relationships in such hurtful, harmful, and unconscionable ways? How can it be done differently?

People leave their love relationships in tatters because they:

1. Are too frightened to actually face their own unhappiness and take responsibility for it.

2. Are unwilling to face the pain in their partner’s face when they tell them the relationship is over. They don’t want to witness the loss band-aid being pulled off in slow motion and thus feel responsible for the hurt.

3. Selfishly tell themselves that what their partner doesn’t know will not hurt them.

4. Want to punish their partner emotionally for what they have experienced as coldness, distance, or waning desire.

5. Are addicted to novelty and idealization at any cost.

6. Are unable to face the material consequences or insecurities of their decision to leave.

7. Blame their partner for their lack of success or dissatisfaction with their own life.

Any of the choose-your-own-adventures above indicate that there is a lot of pain between lovers that has not been addressed in an appropriate way, and that a lot of collateral emotional damage could be spared if people felt good enough about themselves, and had the correct tools, to deal with immense fear, insecurity, and emptiness. It takes tremendous courage to actually face relationship despair head on. Instead people bolt, cheat, lie, withdraw, get addicted to things, or trash the whole thing with an abrupt cut-off and hostile attack listing every imagined resentment and flaw. Rarely do people face each other and discuss the dying elephant in the room. To do so would be to take an honest look at the demise of the dream, the failing of the promises, and the personal sense of inadequacy and hopelessness that intimate relationship endings bring.

If we are to truly absorb and assimilate the grief of a coming ending—in its raw and undistracted state—we actually need to confront our own shortcomings. Both parties need to look at their parts in the deterioration of the connection and the many personal patterns or flaws that contributed to the dying of attraction and affection. This is the psychological work of warriors, quite frankly, and many folks just do not have the inner muscles or resolve, or outside resources to flex that deeply.

However, if we could all agree that it is in the best interest of ourselves, and our communities, to get into some serious intimacy shape, we could begin to deal with the reality and the sorrow of relationships that are fizzling out, and do so with dignity, maturity, and kindness. We could support one another to take regular inventory of the health of our love relationships and not go into cruise control or denial about intimacy erosion. Once we start hearing the whisper of the death rattle through long periods of emotional disconnection, avoidance of sex, constant bickering or fighting, increasing times apart, and a vapid joylessness, we can roll up our sleeves and wrestle these emotional demons. If all efforts fail to revive the romance and quality of connection, then everyone can feel more empowered to move forward.

Below, 20 ways to leave your lover with love and respect.

1. Take full responsibility for your part in the ending, as in:

“I gave up a long time ago when we were drifting apart and I just didn’t fight for us.”
“I stopped appreciating you and took you for granted.”
“I need something different than what I am getting with you and I want to move on.”

2. Take time to dissolve the ending by giving your partner notice and discussing reasonable ways to end things.

3. Speak highly of your soon-to-be ex, because what you say about them actually reflects a great deal about you.

4. Spend a good deal of time reflecting on how you got into the intimacy bog and what you could have done differently.

5. Give your soon-to-be ex a lot of space to be upset and remove yourself immediately from any conversations that are hateful or abusive.

6. Pay off all debts and split things up fairly.

7. Seek professional help to mediate finality if you are too frightened and find yourself backing off from your firm decision.

8. Refrain from clingy sex and keep appropriate new boundaries to avoid confusion and undue stalling. Respect your partner’s boundaries and their need for distance.

9. Be kind to all of your mutual friends, as well as the friends of your partner. Avoid taking sides. There are no sides. There is just loss.

10. Use this time to take great care of yourself by getting in shape, not just physically but mentally. This is a very stressful time, no matter how adrenalized you may feel in leaving.

11. Keep your words in the affirmative about the situation and avoid all attempts to make you right and your partner wrong. Again, it is all just loss. There are no winners.

12. Be faithful to your soon-to-be ex and do not involve anyone else romantically in your complicated emotional maelstrom until you are truly separated.

13. Give your soon-to-be ex lots of physical space and let them attend to things without having to see your face.

14. Take up a new class or hobby to help you fill the new free time that is often fraught with compulsive over-thinking.

15. Take a short road trip alone or with friends to get some perspective after the big announcement.

16. Refrain from any social media postings about your status. RESPECT the transition.

17. Keep all your soon-to-be ex’s secret vulnerabilities SECRET. Do not ever reveal intimate facts. That would be tasteless and petty.

18. Let go of all letters and memorabilia as soon as possible, but in a discreet, honorable way.

19. Take time to feel all the emotions without involving your ex in a blow-by-blow battle. It is time for you to feel it all. Get a therapist or friend to be there for you.

20. When you make mistakes along the imperfect road of breaking up, admit to them and move on. Making a mistake is not code for failure.

If you are the friend of someone in the midst of this process, you can be truly helpful by encouraging the person to look in the mirror for the real lessons to be learned, and to keep an eye on the path ahead. There is only power in looking at his or her part of the relationship, no matter how screwed up their partner’s actions seem to be. After all, so much of falling in love is in the feeling we get about ourselves in the eyes of the beloved. It seems fitting that falling out of love is also about bravely enduring the feeling we get from looking in the eyes of one we have disappointed, whether they be our ex-lover’s or our own.

by GUEST AUTHOR Dr. Jennifer Freed with Molly Green. Dr. Jennifer Freed PhD, is a child behavioral expert and co-founder of AHA! (Attitude.Harmony.Achievement.)

Compassionate Confrontation:
“He said he’d spend more time with me, but has not followed through.”

"Taurus" by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

When a person who has agreed to a behavioral change does not follow through, the ability to confront that person with compassion is essential. No matter how justified your anger, a hostile confrontation or withdrawal will only result in more frustration and distance.

The goal of a compassionate confrontation is to generate mutual understanding before taking action. Starting with this kind of dialogue is far more effective than letting your anger take over.

Arrange a Meeting

It is important to avoid simply jumping into a difficult conversation. You will be much more effective if you arrange a meeting with the following parameters in mind:

1. The meeting takes place in a safe place,

2. With adequate time for full discussion,

3. Without other people or the children around,

4. Not right before going to bed, and

5. Not when either of you is exhausted, has been drinking, or is hungry.

Ask the other person to agree to two conditions:

1. To give the discussion a certain amount of time so that neither of you will leave before the time is up, and

2. To avoid attacking each other and interrupting. If you are attacked or interrupted, don’t get angry. Just say, “Hey, let’s do this without attacking or interrupting each other, like we agreed.”

State of Mind

To effectively confront someone, you have to start the conversation when you’re emotionally able to manage your stress and reactivity. You have to resist blaming or judging. An effective discussion starts from a position of appreciation, that is, you have to find a way to value and understand the other person and to convey that you want what is best for both of you.

To know what action to take, you will need to have a full understanding of what’s going on. Keep your emotional focus on valuing the other person even if you don’t like what they are saying. It is crucial not to take things personally when they speak from a position of fear.

Communications Professor Dalton Kehoe suggests that in a situation where you’re hearing negative attacks to view yourself as a matador with a raging bull coming at you. Simply step aside rather than stand in its way.

Starting the Discussion

Ranting may temporarily relieve your stress but it has a damaging effect on dialogue. The whole point is to get a deeper understanding of the other person’s view of the situation. In fact, you will often be surprised by the the other person’s point of view.

To start the discussion, you can say, “I think this affects both of us.” Describe the situation briefly and factually, being as neutral as you can. For example, “Two months ago, I asked you to spend more time with me. You agreed to come home earlier, but haven’t.”

State your concern with only one sentence, so that the other person doesn’t shut down or become defensive. For instance, “I’d like to be in a relationship where we enjoy more time together.”

Active Listening

Then ask how the other person views the situation. “How do you see it?”

Be sure to actively listen to gain understanding. Don’t become defensive. Try to understand the other point of view, even if you don’t agree. Encourage a full explanation of their view without interjecting judgment or arguing back.

To neutralize the unhelpful tone of a confrontational discussion, take the negative content and re-frame it without the negative emotion. Reinterpret what’s being said into neutral language.

For instance, if he says, “I work like crazy, and get home to your nagging me to do more work,” you can re-frame it by saying, “I’m so sorry that you feel annoyed by the way I approach you when you come home.”

Your Point of View

Once you have gotten the full story and the other person has run out of emotional heat, then you can ask if they will listen to your perspective. Again keep it neutral and descriptive so as to gain their understanding. Keep it calm and brief.

Once May Not Be Enough

While this is the most effective method for dealing with conflict, it may take a few times before there’s enough trust built up for the attacks and defense to diminish. At that point, people may become more comfortable in being open and honest to themselves and each other.

Solution

Do not rush to solve a problem when you only understand part of the story. Once there is true understanding, problem-solving becomes a relatively easy and minor part of the discussion. Problem-solving can only occur when people really understand the problem from both points of view. The solution then becomes obvious, although it may still be painful. Life often demands that we adjust our dreams and hopes to reality. But first it is crucial to find out what the other person’s reality really is.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD


Recommended and Reference: “Effective Communication Skills” by Professor Dalton Kehoe from The Great Courses.


“I dread facing this problem.”

“Tournament of Champions, Kapalua” Steve Stricker
by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.”

~Voltaire

Once in while you will luck out and a problem will resolve itself on its own. Usually, however, running from a problem causes it to mutiply into a large number of troubles.

Why run from problems?

Why do people dread handling problems? They may want to avoid disappointing others; they may shudder at the idea of changing their lives; they may recoil from admitting that past choices have not turned out as expected. Ultimately, it is anxiety and fear that prevent us from confronting our problems.

Tension intensifies

It is not easy to face problems head on. Yet, the longer we wait, the greater the anxiety and fear of confronting the problem becomes. It is astonishing how the angst of avoiding difficulties will intensify with inaction, becoming worse than the difficulty of actually dealing with the problem itself.

How we confront difficulties defines us

Heartache, hurt, and hurdles are part of life. No one handles all challenges with ease and grace. Yet, it is our struggle with those very challenges that chisels our character. In grappling with dilemmas, we discover what is meaningful to us. Through difficult discussions and decisions we fashion our own identity.

Facing our problem does not equal making snap decisions

Facing problems does not always require rushing to action or making quick decisions. Some dilemmas need time to resolve appropriately. There is a key difference between black-and-white problem solving—either making a snap decision or avoiding the problem—and making a wise and thoughtful decision. When we avoid black-and-white thinking, we learn to view the world in its many shades and colors. Sometimes we need to take time to consider the various complexities of a particular circumstance to figure out what to do.

When we face problems with seriousness, openness and courage, we are no longer a slave to the dread that debilitates us. By acknowledging the past but not dwelling on it, we become capable of changing ourselves and our lives. By facing difficulties, we open up the realm of new possibilities. By completing unfinished business, accepting and forgiving ourselves and others, we become free to move on.

“No man is free who is not master of himself.”

~Epictetus

by Alison Poulsen, PhD


How to have a productive argument: “You’re simply wrong.”

"Poetry - Arnold Palmer" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Poetry – Arnold Palmer” by Mimi Stuart ©

To resolve conflict, solve problems, and influence people, you have to be diplomatic and strategic. Argue with the idea, not the person.

1. Find common ground. Start with the part you agree with.

“I understand where you’re coming from.” Or

“Yes, I have also found that…”

2. Find out the reasoning for their perspective.

“That’s an interesting way of looking at it. What makes you feel that way?” Or

“Tell me more about your position.”

3. Separate the idea from the person.

“The issue I have with that idea is that…”

4. Show concern rather than insistence by showing a compassionate side. Watch that your body language and facial expressions don’t convey superiority.

“My concern is…”

5. Broaden the other person’s perspective by posing a question. Even if someone doesn’t concede your point during the discussion, they may start considering it if you are not aggressive about it.

“Don’t you find…?” Or

“What if someone…?”

6. Don’t insist on resolving the issue now.

“Let’s think about this some more and see how we can fine-tune our ideas.”

Being strategic and diplomatic is not manipulative. It will allow you to hear what the other person has to say and you may learn something yourself. If you are soft on the person and curious about the issue at hand, you both might end up with a more nuanced solution than either one of you imagined.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

“Is there hope for our relationship when we have such different mindsets?”

"Jazz Night" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Jazz Night” by Mimi Stuart ©

“I have a “growth mentality” and I guess my husband has a “fixed” mentality. I want to grow and change in every area of my (our) lives. I want us to become better people and pursue greater happiness. My husband wants to stay the same. He is insecure and likes comforts and approval and takes my wanting change as a personal affront. He says I’m never happy. But I am happy. I’m just happiest when I/we are moving in new directions and growing! He loves movies and food and I want to read and be outdoors and learn. We have little children and I really don’t want to divorce. We seem to want such different things that I fear we won’t make each other happy over the long run. Is there hope for people with such different mindsets being together?”

Two people who are very different from one another can have a loving, fulfilling relationship as long as there is no contempt or abuse within the relationship. While you can generally improve a relationship more easily if you have a growth mentality than a fixed mentality, I don’t think having a husband with a fixed mentality is enough reason to toss in the towel, especially if you have children. Remember that we can never get everything we want in any particular partner.

I would consider whether part of your growth could be to accept your husband for who he is, that is, someone with different interests and less desire to change and grow. I would recommend continuing to pursue your interests while respecting his complacency. Continue to grow, read, go outdoors, and learn. But don’t show contempt for your husband’s lack of interest in doing the same. I would not badger him to read, because he probably won’t, and he would feel that you are nagging and criticizing him. If you try to push him, he will become more defensive, entrenched, and find more things to criticize about you.

I bet that there were qualities about him that you liked when you met, and that there’s a reason you liked those qualities. Perhaps you liked him in part because he is predictable and not seeking novelty and growth. Predictable people tend to be more loyal and bring less chaos into a relationship. They can be more stable as a partner and parent than someone who is seeking change and improvement. Your differences from each other can bring a nice balance to the relationship as long as there is no contempt.

I would recommend continuing to pursue your interests and learning, while also spending a little time trying to appreciate the things he likes to do, whether it’s watching football, going to movies, or eating delicious food. You don’t have to do everything together by any means. But it would be nice if you could find a way to do a couple of the things he likes to do and really appreciate those activities (even as a learning experience) and try to understand why he likes them.

Reading, learning, and going outdoors may sound more virtuous than watching movies, enjoying food, and staying comfortably at home. Yet it is important to enjoy the present even while seeking improvement in YOURself for the future.

I am not implying that you don’t enjoy the present, and I can see why you would be frustrated with someone who isn’t trying to better himself and explore life more. I’m just trying to help you appreciate what is good in your husband, while you continue to seek your own path. We cannot change others, but sometimes it is surprising what we can learn from them while continuing to maintain our own preferences.

I’m glad you’re reluctant to divorce, particularly since you have children together. It can be beneficial for children to experience two very different kinds of parenting—one who is predictable and stays at home, while the other explores the outdoors and new activities.

If you continue to grow, and the two of you thereby grow apart dramatically and can no longer get along, then that will become much more clear over time. Or if you are able to resist criticizing him and pushing him to change, and he continues to act with defensiveness and hostility toward you, then it may be time to seek counseling to improve the situation or to consider other alternatives.

But there is a good chance that you can and will continue to grow while honoring who your husband is as a person, a mate, and a father. You may come to appreciate your differences, while experiencing growing mutual respect and love for each other.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen