The Language of Conflict

And I hope this whole thing didn’t frighten you
There were times that it terrified me
I know what they said, I don’t know if it’s true
I hope this whole thing didn’t frighten you
—The Hold Steady, “I Hope This Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You ”

Storm’s Over?

“I woke up one day and the storm was over,” said George. “Or so it seemed.”

“Yes,” agreed Mimi.  “We’d worked our way through some pretty dark, nasty conflicts—conflicts that came up over and over.  And then after we seemed to have gotten through that, we found ourselves looking at each other as if asking, ‘now what?’”

Conflict is an important part of learning to live together—especially for people deeply committed to each other. Research (link is external) shows that conflict characterized by emotions such as sadness and hurt can lead to constructive conversations and outcomes. For people affected by irrelationship, conflict may be a way of trying to preserve the relationship by keeping communication open. Such conflict may signal that a couple is missing one another even though they live together and sleep in the same bed.

“Things at last got resolved, or anyway it seemed that way. We’d gone from fighting all the time and threatening each other to—well, we didn’t know what.”

“We’d gone into couples’ therapy,” Mimi added. “That gave us some helpful techniques for putting to rest those ‘same old fights’ we kept getting into.”

Numbed-Out Zombieness

So, with our understanding of irrelationship, is it possible that if we simply take away the conflict without addressing root causes and conditions, we might be inadvertently banishing ourselves—and each other—into isolation? There may be ways in which certain types of conflict serve as a resistance into slipping into the full-on zombieness—numbed-out disconnect—of irrelationship. Conflict can then be a lifeline out from the dissociated abyss of conjoint psychological defense.

“But,” said George, “that didn’t do anything to explain why everything felt so bad.”

After they learned to manage their recurring conflicts, George and Mimi found that they still felt something profound was “off” but didn’t know how to describe it and were uneasy about trying to do so. For them, conflict had been a way of connecting with the deep caring that brought them together initially and keeping them from slipping away from one another into a numbed out, dissociated state.

Conflict Resoltion as a Slip Into Isolation

“In stopping the fights,” continued Mimi, “we’d stopped the one way of being together that connected us to each other after we’d settled into our everyday life routine.”

“Exactly, only together wasn’t the right word for it,” said George.

“Well, that’s true,” Mimi went on. “We got what we thought we wanted and worked for. But it actually left us feeling worse.”

“Yeah,” said George. “The one thing I—no, we—wanted was to escape from our loneliness and isolation.”

“Too true,” concluded Mimi.  “But what we definitely weren’t expecting was that when we resolved our ‘conflicts,’ that became a straight shot into loneliness.”