How To Find That Sweet Spot Confronting Issues And Dealing With Conflict In Relationships: The Ergotropic Complaint
Relationships can be difficult at times but we seek them because we are social creatures and thrive when we find intimacy and closeness with other people. Intimate relationships provide us with the richness of life, companionship, and security we seek to make life more meaningful. But as with anything in life that is worthwhile it comes at a price and one of those is dealing with conflict.
It takes skill and experience to deal with conflict successfully. I know as I teach these skills to many of my patients and couples I work with in psychotherapy. However, just as important is using judgment about which issues should be discussed and when. Each of us is different. Thus, the problem of how and when to discuss matters is further complicated by the fact that some of us are conflict-averse, some are comfortable with it, and others seem to thrive on it.
Confronting Relationship Issues
W.R. Hess was a Swiss physiologist who introduced the concept of “ergotropic” to refer to the power of the sympathetic nervous system to exert energy and “trophotropic” to the parasympathetic nervous system’s function to rest. Relationships may be viewed in a similar way. At times we need to work on our relationships, confront issues when they arise, and work through problems together. Other times we need rest and relaxation while enjoying each other’s company and having fun together. Knowing which issues to work on and when can be a challenge sometimes. Added to this problem are the differences between couple’s personalities. Some are more eager to work on problems, process issues and concerns, others tend to avoid or procrastinate in dealing with these matters. Each of us has our own comfort zone so to speak and when they don’t mesh well problems in a relationship can ensue.
How do we decide which issues to discuss, whether we are engaged in ergotropic mode too often or not enough, and when should issues be brought into discussion? Here are some suggestions:
If not sure, think before you say something. Some people have difficulty controlling their reactions and then often regret it later, saying something in an unkind way, losing their temper, getting defensive. If this is you, learn how to relax, recuse yourself, take a walk, call time out and get back to it later.
If something is on your mind and you are not sure whether to bring it up, discuss it with a friend or bring it up in with your therapist. Write down your thoughts and reflect on them. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Life is full of problems. Our partner is likely to have many faults and so do we. Complaining or bickering much of the time wears down a relationship, so does too much intensity. If you have a tendency to be peevish or intense imagine what it would be like if the shoe were on the other foot. How pleasant would that be?
If you think something is important enough to bring up, find a time and place that seems right to raise it, when there aren’t a lot of distractions and your partner seems receptive. If it is difficult to find such a time ask your partner when it would be a good time. If you find yourself feeling like you are walking on eggshells or your partner seems to be doing the same, take some time to reflect on why that may be. Ask your partner whether there is anything bothering them they would like to discuss.
If you find yourself feeling resentful or becoming emotionally distant, consider this a warning that something that needs to be addressed isn’t. Talk with a friend or your therapist about your hesitancy to confront your partner if you are reluctant to do so so that you may find a way to bring it up for discussion.
Posted by Robert Hamm, Ph.D.
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Robert Hamm Ph.D