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Emotional conflict in relationships.

Counselling — admin @ 11:05 am

Here at counselling connections this week we have been thinking about thinking. Or to be more precise we have been giving some consideration to a particular way of thinking. It could be called ‘black or white’ thinking and it is characterised by a wish on the part of the thinker to break an emotional question down to a simple ‘yes or no’ answer. This is especially the case when it comes to consideration of our relationship with a particular person in our life. It is often encountered when coming to terms with a relationship with a parent where that mother or father was absent, emotionally or physically; or when they were at times aggressive and at other times kind.
This phenomenon is also present in romantic relationships. It is not unusual for someone to be caught in confusion when trying to sort out their feelings in relation to the good and the bad in their loved one. One of the conflicts that this presents in therapy is the very straightforward one of wishing that things could be simple and that decisions about the future of a relationship were easy to make. We seem to want the other to be either good or bad and we can spend a lot of time looking over the evidence to support either of these polar opposites. More often than not there is evidence for each and a definitive answer eludes us.
It is not unusual for someone who is in therapy to suddenly declare in frustration ‘it is just not rational’ or ‘I know it’s not logical but . . . ‘. And of course both these statements are true. The conflicts we are dealing with are neither rational nor logical quite simply because they are emotional. And emotional conflict is often characterised by there being no single right answer. It is also true to say that these conflicts are not amenable to logic. This however doesn’t stop us wishing for the simple solution.
Logic would tempt us with the offer of a definitive answer whereas in reality we are dealing matters of the heart. We may need to learn to live with a level of uncertainty. This carries with it an almost inevitable level of frustration. When considering a relationship with another we have to try to learn to live with this frustration and come to terms with ‘not knowing.’ This can be difficult to bear; in particular at times of conflict in a relationship. Our thoughts can become completely taken up with the dyadic thinking of the hope of a single, simple ‘yes or no’ answer.
It is not unknown for someone in a conflicted relationship to find this sitting with ‘not knowing’ unbearable and to suddenly decide against their partner. They may then seek a complete break ignoring any pleas for discussion or attempts at reconciliation. They have at least relieved themselves of the tension of not being able to find the ‘right’ answer by making a decision and resolutely sticking to it. This is one way of resolving the question but it fails to address the underlying issue of our craving for the absolute single right, ‘black or white’ answer.
In therapy we often find that if we can learn to ‘sit with’ the tension of there not being a single right answer to a question about a loved one we can learn a great deal. It can facilitate a process of coming to terms with the good and the bad in a loved one. We can also then begin to look inside ourselves and consider what it is we are looking for in a loved one. Or what we might be looking for them to give to us. Sometimes here we uncover emotional vacuums that we have been trying to fill for most of our lives.
Coming to an acceptance of the complexity of human relationships through an examination of our own major relationships is part of the outcome of good therapy. Learning this by coming through emotional conflict with another can also facilitate a permanent change in a ‘black or white’ way of thinking and make future conflict easier to bear. By overcoming the emotional conflict with our loved one we kick start the process of overcoming an underlying tension in ourselves. We develop the ability to bear emotions that at one time felt unbearable.
Counselling Connections, Dundalk.

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