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How Poorly Handled Clashes Hurt Us

This is the third of three articles dealing with people clashes.  We’ll close by looking the results of poorly handled clashes.
As discussed, we clash when we get close.  We’re attracted to each other’s positives but encounter each other’s negatives in close connections.  We naturally handle those clashes poorly (bad conflict.)  We get caught in a cycle of reacting to each other’s reactions—what I call the “conflict trap.”  This trap is easy to fall into and our inclinations make it difficult to exit.  And staying trapped affects us adversely in four ways.

First, no problems are solved.  When a problem arises needing resolution, we get caught in that cycle of reacting to each other’s reactions and the conversation produces no solution.  That’s why people say, “We go round and round and never get any place.”  Or, “What’s the point in talking about it, we never solve anything?”  

Second, bad conflict feels awful.  Those warm feelings once experienced morph into icyness.  That’s why people say, “We love each other but we’re not ‘in love’ anymore.”  Or, “I love him but I don’t like him.”  Bad conflict is a warmth killer.  
Third, the relationship becomes alienated.  If being close results in bad conflict, we distance ourselves to avoid the frustration.  At that point, people say, “We’ve drifted apart.”  Actually, they’ve distanced themselves little by little over time.

Finally, bad conflict brings out our worst.  Just as we look and sound ugly when we stub our toes, we look and sound ugly inside the reactive cycle of bad conflict.  That’s why people say, “I miss the person I married,” or “I don’t like the person I’ve become in this relationship.”

It’s called “bad conflict” because nothing good comes from it. In our next series, we’ll look at bad conflict’s alternative, “good conflict.”
Dr. Alan Godwin is a private practice psychologist in Brentwood, Tennessee.  He is the author of the recently released How to Solve Your People Problems:  Dealing with Your Difficult Relationships.  He and his wife, Penny, have been married for 31 years and have 3 children.  www.peopleproblems.org

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