The High-Conflict Couple
LEARNING EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
THE HIGH-CONFLICT COUPLE: Are you and your partner a high-conflict couple? Do you fight at least once a week? Do you put each other down with frequent criticism? Do you each feel superior to the other? Or inferior? Do you show contempt for each other? Defensiveness? Is there a rush to dismiss the other or to stonewall the other? Ignore the other? Do you wonder why you ever married him or her in the first place?
THE PROBLEM: High-conflict couples have trouble regulating themselves and their relationships. They are easily triggered by failures in the other or in the environment to affirm and to validate. They lack the communication skills and the inter-personal skills to understand and then to control their emotions, to choose non-inflammatory language, to distinguish between self and other, and to look inward. The partners in a high-conflict relationship are unable to tolerate difference, are unable to listen without interrupting, cannot resist growing defensive and contemptuous, and have lost the hope or confidence that the other will respect their feelings and their perspective.
DIVORCE: Without help, the high-conflict couple will likely divorce. In fact, the prevalence of contempt, stonewalling, criticism and defensiveness in a relationship is such a good predictor of divorce that these four behaviors have come to be called the “four horsemen of the apocalypse.”
LEARNING EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Marriage or couples counseling for the high-conflict couple is primarily focused on 2 areas in the marriage:
- The Area of Injury, Resentment, Hurt and Anger
This area is often ignored or overlooked by clinicians in a hurry to teach you how to “do it better.” What is forgotten is that the hurt and resentment must be recognized and acknowledged, or else everything simply becomes mechanical.
Good marriage counseling makes room for both partners to air their grievances, but more importantly, also teaches the partners to listen and to affirm each other. In this way, you can begin to have an experience of being heard and recognized. You can begin to develop genuine hope for improvement in the marriage—a hope that becomes the natural consequence of feeling seen and heard by your spouse or partner.
Good marriage counseling brings the hurt and anger into the conversation and helps each partner feel satisfied that they’ve been heard and understood.
Good marriage counseling makes sure to keep a balanced perspective, siding with neither partner but rather, helping each to understand the other’s needs.
- The Area of Emotional Intelligence
A good clinician will see where the partners lack emotional intelligence— where they fail to choose neutral language, fail to listen carefully, and fail to recognize or affirm the other’s perspective.
Treatment will teach each partner how to communicate. It will illustrate the complex role of good communication in making relationships healthy and satisfying. Treatment will illustrate how inflammatory language may feel instinctively correct at first but how it ultimately undermines trust and safety. Treatment will show you how different language and a neutral tone can be productive in bringing about resolution to conflict.
Treatment will illustrate how challenging it is to listen to your partner, especially when they’re not being complimentary about you.