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  • Writer's pictureAnnelise Garnier

Two myths about conflicts:

They are bad for relationships

Not only are conflicts inevitable in relationships, but they are necessary!  Research has shown that, contrary to popular belief, early conflict in a relationship is a predictor of good outcomes, because it means that partners feel secure enough to bring up issues without fear.  Conflict does not have to break us and our partner apart, we can grow closer BECAUSE of it. 

They should always be resolved

Most conflicts will in fact never be resolved, this is normal and ok. Only a third of all fights have a solution.  The rest are perpetual conflicts that need to be “managed” over and over.  They are inevitable because we all have differing needs and personalities. 


People have different styles of conflict

There are three styles we tend to gravitate more towards, none better than the other:

·       Avoiding: we choose not to bring up issues and only focus on what is working well in the


Conflicts are unnoticeable, which can lead to disconnection.


·       Validating: we problem solve and debate in a rational way with less room for emotions. 

Conflicts can be tense fights.


·       Volatile: we express emotions freely and this can escalate and get out of control. 

Conflicts are explosive fights.

No matter what our style is, the important aspect is to keep the ratio of positive interactions to negative ones above 5:1, according to relationship experts, Julie and John Guttman. This will help with staying open and interested without shutting down or becoming defensive. Examples of positive interactions could be a smile, a joke, a touch, a nod or a validating comment.


When do fights go wrong?

·       When we dismiss each other’s negative emotions.

This leads to an escalation of emotions because the person feels invalidated.


·       When there is no humour, affection or warmth. 

This can soon be replaced with criticism, contempt, stonewalling and defensiveness.


·       When we become flooded and do not realise this is happening to us. 

This leaves our emotional brain in charge and we have a typical Fight, Flight, Freeze or

Fawn reaction.


What to do instead?

·       Honour and respect each other’s emotions, without minimising what the other is feeling.


·       Moving from gridlock to dialogue, exploring each other’s unmet needs and dreams with openness and curiosity. The goal is not to win against an opponent but to think for two. 


·       Be aware in the moment of what flooding feels like physically for us.  Letting our partner know that we need to pause and move away for an hour or so will allow us to reset and come back to the discussion with more calm and openness.


Finally, continually filling our positive emotions piggy bank will help

According to research, the biggest predictor of the future of a relationship is responding positively to our partner’s bids for connection.  When they sigh, for example, do we turn away, do we ignore them or do we turn toward them and ask if they are alright?

The odds of us being on the same page all the time are quite low, so we need to make an intentional effort to turn TOWARD each other during those fleeting moments throughout the day. 

This will be an investment in our piggy bank of positive emotions which we will be able to turn to in times of conflict.

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  • Writer's pictureAnnelise Garnier

I came across a fascinating concept the other day that caught my attention: the Zeigarnik Effect.


What is it?

In a few words, when we complete a task, our brain hits the delete button and we don’t think about it too much anymore.  Does studying hard for an exam and not being able to recall much about the subject once the exam is over ring a bell?  If, on the other hand, a task is left unfinished, we tend to retain it in our memory.  Failing to complete a task basically creates a subtle cognitive tension in our mind, which can only be released once the tasks have been completed.


Some examples

Waiters remember the orders that have not been paid for and tend to swiftly forget the ones dealt with. ATM machines ask us to retrieve our card before giving us our money, as we could easily forget our card once the task of getting our money was completed.  Writers and filmmakers use this effect to their advantage, often ending book chapters or episodes with an unfinished storyline to keep us thinking about it and wanting to read or watch more.


The Zeigarnik Effect and relationships

The Zeigarnik Effect also impacts our romantic relationships, but in quite a negative way.  Because we tend to remember better what is not resolved, we are more likely to remember a fight with our partner that did not get repaired. This means that intrusive thoughts about the incident and the way it left us feeling will keep coming back to us again and again, as they will be stored in our memory, waiting to get resolved - and this could go on for years!  Indeed, we find it hard to forget something until we have truly processed it, i.e. when we have been able to feel understood and make sense of it ourselves. 


Memories change with time

The problem with this is that memories do not stay the same, they start to get distorted with time. You felt deeply hurt by a particular comment your partner made, and every time you access that memory, it aligns more and more with that feeling.  It’s a bit like walking with a piece of gravel in your shoe.  If you don’t stop and take it out, it will keep bothering you.


Never too late …

But the good news is that it is never too late to process a fight. Never too late to talk about the experience you both had, the impact you had on each other. And only when you have understood each other fully can you forgive and finally move on. 

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