Happy Relationships Blog

Handling conflicts

Posted on: January 26, 2009

Another media inquiry regarding handling conflicts:

I’m not a yeller. I never have been. When my sister and I had knock-down fights as kids, she screamed and I talked or cried (or both). Actually, that’s how our fights play out these days. I also never yelled when arguing with my parents, and the one and only time I got in a bit of a “tiff” with a colleague, she yelled and I, well, spoke. I’m the same way with dates. Recently, I had my first-ever argument with a non-yeller. It was weird — very weird. And I almost laughed in the middle because it didn’t feel like a fight. So was it? Does emotional release occur if you don’t yell? Is the fight as effective or productive? Do two people who are non-yellers accomplish anything while fighting? What about two screamers? The Times Union is a 150,000-circulation daily paper in the capital of New York state. We are Hearst-owned, and our stories run on the NY Times and Hearst wires after they appear in our paper. This is for my Sunday Life 3.0 column. 

Your question really gets to the heart of the difference between positive and negative relationships.  Again, the real question here is how to handle the inevitable conflicts that are certainly a part of every relationship when you bring 2 different people together with 2 completely different backgrounds. 

The problem with our understanding of arguments is we have yet to elaborate on the emotional toll and psychological reaction to them.  The objective, on the other hand, is to handle these conflicts through disagreements, not arguments.  One of the most significant sections of my book is my section on Dr. Martin Luther King because he taught us the proper way to handle conflicts, what he called civil disobedience, a term he learned from a French philosopher by the name of Thoreau.  In other words, when faced with conflicts that you disagree with it is okay to be disobedient, to disagree, just be civil about it. 

The problem with arguments is the emotional toll on the 2 involved and the unfortunate break down in communications which is the result of disagreements that turn into arguments.  The key difference between disagreements and arguments is disagreements take place on a logical plane while arguments take place on an emotional plane, which is not logical and solutions to these conflicts becomes extremely difficult if not impossible.  

Unfortunately, modern psychology tries to convince us that if you don’t release your emotional anxieties that underlie all conflicts then you suppress them, where in time the suppressed anxieties eventually explode.  What is missing here is the concept of not suppressing the underlying emotional anxieties but instead discussing them with your partner in life, who should provide an outside, objective perspective, barring your partner’s personal insecurities causing a subjective perspective in his or her response.  The goal is to talk through the insecurities so that the fear underlying the emotional anxieties can be released in a positive manner. 

And the reality is that as soon as you cross the plane of disagreements and enter the plane of arguments communications break down.  With disagreements the logic, which is understood and could be either the logic of the thoughts or the logic of the feelings, is eventually comprehended by both parties where a solution then becomes possible.  Unfortunately there are no real solutions behind emotional arguments. Not only are they not logical but in reality are the result of the effort by one party to enforce his or her subjective perspective, at the cost of a better objective solution for both within a relationship.  


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