Every couple has tension at times, arguments, and even blowout fights. However, most couples are not employing reliable instruments of conscious reflection, insight, and communication to resolve them, and to learn and grow in the process.
It is simple, but not easy, to shift into a skilled approach to partnership conflict. Simple because the tools are available, learnable, and repeatable. Not easy because of emotional reactivity, which cannot be over-emphasized in its significance as an obstacle.
Most of my work coaching clients for relationship growth involves learning to identify and train the reactive mind, which I call Green Dude (see eBook available on this website for a detailed introduction to the Green Creature). The fear-based ego mind – Green Dude – is a basic survival mechanism that gets over-developed, mostly in childhood, in correlation with the amount and intensity of excessive negative energy we have to cope with in our situations and relationships.
We need our Green Dude; it protects us when we are genuinely otherwise defenseless children, still developing and dependent on the adults for our existence. However, we bring Green Dude with us into adulthood, and it gets reactivated mostly in intimate relationships (which can include friendship, colleagues, housemates, and of course, sexual and romantic partners). Intimacy triggers it because it brings up perceived survival threats.
Once we develop a pattern of conflict with a partner, that is the Core Scene in that relationship (probably very similar to our Core Scene in any intimate relationship – that is our Imago. More on Imago in other parts of this website, and at www.imagorelationships.org). Any conflict or tension that is more than a random irritation can be understood and possibly healed through the lens of Core Scene and corresponding tools.
(Note: The following concepts can be taught to couples together, or to one or both individuals separately. They can be discussed together in the process of unpacking a conflict, but usually start in the mind of one person as they quietly and privately reflect on what just happened, to get clarity before sharing.)
In any Core Scene conflict, one person will be acting out more of a feeling of being controlled/stifled/taken over, which is called Engulfment (or, “Gulfie,” affectionately). The other person will be suffering from the counterpart, feeling excluded/disconnected/invisible, which is Abandonment (“Bandie”).
Once we realize – and identify – that we are in a Core Scene conflict, the naming of it helps give distance from soley being in the reactivity. Then identify who is Bandie and Gulfie (hint: usually the same people every time in the same role).
The process of naming these things brings the emotional reactivity down a notch or two. It gives a soothing message that there is a logical, rational way to successfully understand and resolve the problem. And there is! Except, it involves seemingly very irrational feelings. The process of healing conflict with conscious insights about emotional reactivity gives context that helps us understand that the strong emotions actually make sense.
Once the Core Scene and Bandie-Gulfie dynamic are identified (do this every time), the next step is to make a Family of Origin connection, for each person if possible. This usually requires the assistance of a therapist or counselor trained in relationship healing to teach the couple to identify the roots of their triggers and reactivity.
An example of the Family of Origin connection might be: Person A was violated in some way in childhood (Gulfie), so they have very tight boundaries now (many forms) to protect themselves from being violated again. When they feel their boundaries have been trespassed, they react aggressively, causing Person B to feel attacked and rejected. Person B, the “trespasser,” was ignored in childhood (Bandie), and developed a habit of talking a lot and pushing topics in order to be heard, which they now have a blind spot about, causing Person A to often feel violated by their communication.
There are many manifestations of Bandie and Gulfie, but the good news is that it is usually easy to learn to identify. Once clearly seen, the couple can keep discovering all the ways this dynamic shows up, and do something effective about it.
The perceiving, identifying and discussing the above elements in the conflict are a significant help in bringing healing and growth to the pain. To go further into learning, resolution and prevention of future re-triggering, there are more communication tools (Imago Dialogue, Repair Tools, Communication Jewels, NVC, etc.) to learn.
The purpose of this article is to offer a basic three-part approach to go from being painfully activated into emotional reactivity, and the ensuing doomsday thoughts, into getting some perspective of the repetition of the pattern, which offers hope.
Try this at home, when you have a conflict: (in your mind or journal first, before sharing)
1.) Is this conflict familiar? (Is it our “Core Scene?” – identify it as such)
2.) What is the basic dynamic? (“Bandie-Gulfie” tension – whom is on which side of that struggle?)
3.) How does it stem from Family of Origin patterns of reactivity? (how each person’s Green Dude got activated and fed steroids)
From there, discuss, Dialogue, Repair, explore and make agreements to use some structure for prevention as you move forward.
I wish you deeper clarity, understanding, and practice of healing conflict in your relationships.