Here I will mention some of the major conflicts I have noticed in counseling relationship partners and families over the years. You may find a little of your self in some of these descriptions.
First of all, in general, women complain mainly that their spouses
a. Do not pay enough attention to them.
b. Do not communicate what they are feeling or thinking.
c. Are not affectionate enough
d. Are overly focused on their work
e. Do not treat them as equals.
f. Are not sensitive and understanding
While men complain that women:
a. Want to talk too much
b. Complain and criticize them frequently.
c. Try to suppress their (the men’s) personal freedom, usually by complaining or criticizing
d. Do not reason logically.
These differing needs and ways in which men and women think and feel, often lead to misunderstandings and conflicts. These problems can be excellent growth situations if handled maturely and lovingly. If not they can lead to chronic conflict, isolationism or separation. Let us now look at some of the more common relationship conflicts. Our different needs, or more often, our different ways of satisfying the same needs, bring us into conflict as to how we should live, act or interact. It is very common for two or more people to have exactly the same needs, but to have different programmings as to how they can or should fulfill those needs. Let us look at some examples.
WHO IS RIGHT?
Most of the games and roles we will discuss further on are also in some way related to this question of “who is right”. It is difficult for most people to realize that we can differ in our ways of thinking, acting, and approaching life and still both be “right”. We believe that there must be only one right way. Because of this, we feel the need to change the other, to make him see things and approach life as we do. We fear that “if his way is right, then ours must be wrong”. It seldom dawns on us that his could be right for him and ours right for us, and that we can live harmoniously with this difference, that there is no need to change him so as to prove that we are right. This is a extremely important point. Although we seem to fight over such matters as cleanliness, communication, discipline or freedom, in reality, frequently what is really important to us is “who is right”. Often we want the other to accept our point not so much so as to fulfill a need or value, but because winning this case will make us “right”. This complicates matters even more because we are not discussing or arguing in some cases, about the real needs or issues. We may be talking about our beliefs about how to bring up our children, but actually our real need is self verification through the other’s admission that we were right and the other was wrong. We are not talking about the real need i.e. self affirmation, self confidence, and thus we cannot find any solution for the problem, because we do not realize what the real problem is. This may not be true in every case, but it is in a large number of cases, and we would do well to analyze ourselves so as to determine how much, if at all, our problem is infiltrated by this need for affirmation. In such cases we will need to cultivate greater self confidence and self acceptance so that we can get free from this need for approval through such games which are destructive to our relationships and to our own happiness. (The book “The Psychology of Happiness” can be of help in this effort).
Let us keep the above point in mind as we look at some of the conflicts which infiltrate in our personal and professional relationships.
“WE NEED TO SPEAK” vs. “LEAVE ME ALONE”
Some people solve their problems by talking. Others not by talking but by retreating into themselves. When these two types form a close personal relationship, conflicts may ensue. Let us say that Mary has a need to talk about what she is feeling, her needs, fears, the family problems etc. John on the other hand when he is home, or in general with his family, has a need to be quite, not very expressive. He uses most of his energy professionally. He might be programmed that “men do not have much to do with family affairs, that men are distant, not expressive of emotions, or that it is a sign of weakness for men to express emotions”. He does not feel comfortable with the type of discussions that Mary would like to have about their relationship, about her feelings, her needs, the children’s needs. He loves them and cares for them, but does not feel at all comfortable in this realm of emotions. He might think, “Can’t they see my love and caring through the way I exhaust myself at work everyday for them? What else do they want? I just want to sit here and be quiet, rest my mind from all these problems at work”. Mary would love to share John’s professional problems, to hear about them and discuss them. But he does not feel comfortable discussing such things with “a woman”. Mary on the other hand needs more affirmation of John’s caring through tender, loving, affectionate physical contact and sweet words of affection. She needs more attention, so that she can be sure that she is still important to him. She is beginning to have self-doubt about herself her attractiveness as a woman. It may even come into her mind that John is not really interested in her anymore (perhaps he has found someone else to satisfy his emotional and physical needs). Thus Mary approaches John feeling a need to talk about their relationship and the family. There may even be important decisions to be made or serious problems with the children. Not getting the response she would like, Mary begins to accumulate feelings of rejection, hurt and resentment. She begins to expect rejection from John and starts blaming him, criticizing him for not performing his responsibilities as a householder, husband and father. Mary’s accusations and negative response hurt John and cause him to retreat further into himself and to cut Mary short almost immediately in her attempts to communicate. He begins to avoid her as much as possible. This makes her feel even more rejected, abused and perhaps angry. As a consequence Mary feels an even greater need to force him into communication. She may become desperate, perhaps aggressive and demanding and often unpleasant. John, out of his fear and aversion to being forced into doing something he does not feel comfortable about, becomes equally aggressive, perhaps even violent, so as to protect himself from Mary’s needs and accusations. This creates a vicious circle in which both Mary and John become all the more alienated, each believing that he or she is right and that injustice is being done to him or her. Communication breaks down and they either separate, or live together (for the children or out of habit) without any communication whatsoever. I have seen many Marys and Johns sit before me at counseling sessions in which we tried together to establish a new channel and mode of communication. Each was always sure that he or she was right and that the other was wrong. But in my twenty years of working on relationship problems, I have yet to see even one case in which one was right and the other was wrong. In each case I see two people who have basically the same needs (love, attention, self-affirmation, freedom of expression, harmony, respect etc.) but different programmings concerning how to obtain these. It never occurred to them that both are right in light of their childhood programmings. That they have been put together by the hand of life, because they are the perfect teachers for each other. That they are together because they have something to learn from each other. In such a case, John could learn to overcome his programmings about how a man must be. He can overcome his fear of expressing emotions and sharing his weaknesses, fears and concerns with his wife. He can learn to be open and more expressive, and not fear the her needs. Mary could learn to have more self confidence, more self acceptance. She could let go of the need to discuss everything, and develop a sense of discrimination as to what absolutely must be discussed. She can get free from talking as a means of verifying John’s interest and love. Mary can learn to talk less and John can learn to talk more. Then they would find harmony. But often rather than move towards each other, each moves into his own camp and becomes even more extreme, John more reticent, and Mary more talkative. All this is often further complicated by the “who is right” game which we mentioned earlier. Another factor which sometimes complicates matters is when Mary, or whoever the talkative one is, uses his or her talking ability to prove that the other is wrong and that he or she is right. In such cases, when we have approached someone a number of times supposedly to discuss something, and each time we have managed to prove (through our superior talking ability), that the other is wrong and that we are right, the other will obviously start avoiding us. The next time he sees us coming, he will find some way, pleasant or unpleasant, to avoid discussion. Do you think he is going to fall into the same trap over and over again? I have seen many “smart” men and women corner their spouse enough times so as to force their spouse simply to stop playing, by not communicating. The other starts to play the role of the “Intimidator” of “Aloof” to keep the talker at a distance. Thus all those “superior communicators” who feel bitter about their spouse’s or child’s or parent’s refusal to communicate with them, should check whether or not they might be playing the “who’s right” game through their superior communicative ability. If it is so, they are going to have to correct this before the other will be willing to communicate again with them. It might take time to prove to the other that they have given up this game. How can we do this? Accept and love our selves and the other exactly as we are, and understand that there are as many “rights” as there are people. We can put ourselves in his or her position and understand what he or she is feeling. We need to understand that although we both believe different things, we can both be right.
ORDER AND CLEANLINESS VS. CLEANLINESS AND ORDER vs. FREEDOM AND RELAXATION
Anna and George have been married for a number of years now. They have each settled into their own camps concerning various matters on which they do not agree. One of those is just how clean and in order the house must be. Anna’s standards are much higher than George’s. He too has a need for the house to be clean and in order, but not to the same degree as Anna. When things are not «perfect», Anna feels uncomfortable; she cannot relax. «What if some unexpected guest came in now, say my mother, or even worse, my mother-in-law. How would they see me as the woman of the house? What will they say about me?» Anna has been programmed that her self worth is dependent on her role as wife, mother and house keeper. If she is not good at these in the eyes of those around her, she feels that she is a failure. But she was also programmed that the order and cleanliness of the house was exclusively «the woman’s responsibility», her job and no one else’s. Now that she would like to occupy herself with other things, she feels used and abused, as well as resentful, that no one else, neither George, nor the children are helping out with the house cleaning. She feels like a servant, whose needs are not considered nor respected. But on the other hand she has never learned how to express those needs. Until now she never thought that the others might be able to help. Thus she has programmed all of them with the same belief; that they have no responsibilities in the home, that the home is exclusively her responsibility. Thus they do absolutely nothing to help. She herself has created this situation with her beliefs and behavior, never really allowing the others to help, because «the children have more important things to do» or because «this is not a man’s job» or perhaps she was also afraid of losing her role as the perfect housewife. George and the kids on the other hand could probably be gradually awakened to the idea or sharing some responsibilities so that Anna could be freer. The fact is that they do love and care for her. The thought has simply not been discussed or absorbed enough. But even if they did decide to help, it is very possible that each has a different concept as to what is in order and what is clean. George may be perfectly satisfied with the quality of order which exists. Anna, on the other hand, viewing exactly the same room, may feel uncomfortable and even angry that George is not helping. But George believes the room is fine. In addition to that, he has other priorities which he feels are more important than spending more time on even more order. Before discussing some of the possible dramas which might take place in such situations, I would like to say that the choice of the female in the role as over- concerned about order is only arbitrary. I have met quite a number of cases in which the roles were reversed; that is the husband desiring more order than the wife. Such a situation might also exist at an office or store or any professional environment. What usually happens is that Anna starts to complain (directly or indirectly). She begins to emit, in general, a negative energy, perhaps pressuring the others, or criticizing them or even blaming them concerning matters of order and cleanliness. The others begin to feel pressure as well as rejection, perhaps even injustice. This usually creates the reaction of resistance and consciously, or more often subconsciously, they become even sloppier, more disorderly and less cooperative. This is a defense mechanism. Now Anna has two problems and the mess seems even more unbearable. One problem, is that she does not have the order which she needs in order to relax inwardly. The second is that she now feels even more rejected and abused. She thinks, «they have not responded to my plea for help. They do not respect me. They do not love me». This causes her to feel even more hurt and unhappy; which can lead her into either of two directions. One is to close off from the others and create her own world feeling lonely, mistreated, rejected and unloved. Or she might become even more aggressive, demanding and unpleasant. In both cases her relationship with George and the family has lost its harmony. No one is really happy. All of them need to learn to communicate more openly, honestly and more frequently, not allowing emotions to build up in them so that the only way they can be expressed is in a negative manner. Anna, probably, really never believed that she would get help. She was never programmed to believe that the woman of the house could ask for and receive help from her husband and children. It is unlikely that she saw such positive role models of equality as a child. Society is just starting to become conscious of such a possibility. Thus, it is very likely that she never really «asked» for help, but more likely that she simply complained or blamed the others or expressed her negativity in other ways. We will get entirely different results when we approach some one to ask for help, believing that they will surely help and that we deserve their help, that it is natural for them to help, that since they love us they will want to help. Then, we will feel very comfortable asking. If we start to blame them for not helping, for being insensitive, irresponsible, it is unlikely that they will happily respond. Thus Anna will need to work on her belief systems and her programming about her role, and also learn to communicate more positively. She will also benefit by understanding that the others too have been programmed and that she, to a large extent, has been responsible in programming them. It will not be easy for them to «hear» what she is saying at first. What she is asking is «out of the game» it does not register in their minds. It may take time, a lot of time. If she realizes this, she will not feel that «they do not love her» when there is no response or not the response she would like to have. She will have to learn patience and to be more sure about her self worth, so that she does not feel rejected and unloved so easily. The others do love her, but they may not be able to change programming or behavior so quickly. This mechanism is often found in situations where one member of a relationship, family or any grouping has been playing the role of the strong, capable or responsible one for a long time. He or she is the one who handles all the problems, can be counted on for everything, and most important, «has no needs». Then at some point this «strong one» gets tired of taking on all the responsibilities for the group (or relationship) and would like some help from the others. But it will take some time before the others can realize that he really does need help, really does not want to take on all this responsibility. The «strong one» will feel hurt, rejected; thinking, «I have given so much, can’t they think of me now and help me?» They can and they will and all will benefit by this change in roles; but it will take time. The «strong one» has programmed them into believing that he has no needs, and that they can sit back, become irresponsible and depend on him; that only he is capable. In this way all suffer. The others loose the opportunity to grow to develop their abilities and the «strong one» gets caught up in his role, until at some point he wears down his nervous system and vitality. George and the family, on the other hand, can try to listen more carefully. Anna may or may not be expressing her needs clearly. Their job, since they love her and care about her is to try to get to the core of what exactly is bothering her. She has some needs which are not being fulfilled and this is making her unhappy, otherwise she would not be expressing herself in this negative way. They can learn to sit and listen and talk with her, ignoring her accusations and go deeper in order to find out what she is feeling and how they can help her. They may not be able to change their programming about how clean the house must be, but they can surely reaffirm their love and respect to her. This is probably much more important to her than the orderliness. She needs to know that they love and respect her. They can have a meeting once a week where each can discuss his feelings and needs and ask help and cooperation from the others. When they have need conflicts, they can try to find practical mutual solutions which will satisfy each of them to some degree. Perhaps there are small things, or even large favors, which they can do to help Anna or George or any member of the family. They can raise our standards for order, while Anna also works on feeling comfortable and secure with less. This is why they are together, to learn from each other and to come into balance. We tend, however, to do the opposite. Anna’s over concentration on order, makes them become more sloppy, which in turn makes Anna even more obsessed. The answer is for one to become more interested and the other less. Then they will all have grown through this experience. Relationships and families are life situations designed as schools for love. If we do not let go of our ego, our selfishness, our smallness and open up into love, we will continue suffering over and over again. Without love there is no harmony, no happiness. We have two choices. We can look at our relationship problems as opportunities to learn more about ourselves and grow free from our imbalanced aspects and change. This change will be a movement in our own spiritual evolution. It will be a movement from I and mine to we and ours, from ego centeredness to love. The other option is to continue suffering.
CONTROL vs. FLOW
Each person, in his attempt to find security, affirmation, happiness and harmony in his life, searches for the ways in which he can most effectively create the world that he desires. Some people have become programmed to believe that they can do this only by controlling the situations and people around them. Others believe that things work out better when they let things flow. Some prefer to not confront problems which may occur, especially when that means a possible negative conflict with another person. Others cannot hold themselves back from rushing head-on into conflict with whomever voluntarily or involuntarily obstructs them from creating the reality that they desire. Most of us, however, function through some combination of these attitudes. There are times when we feel that we need to control and make effort to change something or to confront some problem. There are other times when we feel that it is best to let things work out for themselves. Our motives in each case may be different. One may avoid acting upon some problem out of fear or lack of self confidence. Another may do the same out of an inherent wisdom or faith that, in this case, it would be best to let the situation work itself out. Still another may realize that his problem is an internal one and that the solution must be found within him, and not through controlling others. Two people, living or working together, may have difficulties when they are used to handling life situations in different ways. Such conflicts may arise concerning how to raise their children, how to manage their financial affairs or how to respond to relatives or social situations. One may believe that it would be irresponsible to not control the children, while the other may feel that such control will harm them or remove their own inner discrimination and creative thought. One may feel insecure or guilty if he is not able to closely regulate his children’s activities, while the other may feel that this will destroy their self-confidence and self-acceptance. One may feel that money must be set aside for the future, while the other may feel that we should enjoy life and use our financial resources in the present. One may feel that we must always conform to the demands placed on us by relatives and social programmings. The other may feel that this is hypocritical and unnecessary.
THE NEED FOR SEX AND AFFECTION
Another common source of misunderstanding and conflict between couples is their differing needs for sex or affection. Usually in the beginning of the relationship these needs are similar, but as the years pass, one starts to have less desire or need than the other. This puts both of them in a difficult position. The one who has a greater need feels rejected by the other when there is no warm response to his or her approaches. This often creates the misunderstanding that the other does not love us, care for us or is not interested in us any more. In some cases, this may be true. In others it is not. Love and interest are still there, but there is simply less need in one than in the other for their expression in this particular physical way. A vicious circle follows, however. The one who feels rejected pressures the other for contact and eventually starts to express negativity towards him. The other feels pressured to have a type of contact he does not desire and builds up various defense mechanisms. One form of defense may be avoidance and preoccupation with other matters. Another may be aggressiveness. Both feel wronged and alienated. This is accentuated when one or both cannot distinguish between sex and affection. Even when one may feel less desire for sexual contact, often his need for the expression of affection remains. Often, however, he avoids any type of affectionate contact with the fear that it may lead to sexual feelings. This cuts them both off from each other in terms of “energy and feeling transfer”, something which is usually essential for their health and growth process.
How we approach these conflicts will depend in the roles through which we usually function in order to get what we want. We might approach each of the above and other conflicts with a combination of roles. We may seek to get what we want playing the victim, the interrogator, the intimidator or being aloof. In the next chapter we will learn how to analyze and get free from the roles we play so that we can approach these problems more maturely, lovingly and effectively.