partners do not feel any desire to end the relationship, in part because they do not have any better prospects in sight, but more importantly because they find a kind of appropriate "happiness" in their squabbling, which is the cement that holds them together. One such couple has described their relationship in the following terms:
Now these fights get pretty damned colorful. You called them arguments a little while ago--I have to correct you--they're brawls. There's never a bit of physical violence--at least not directed to each other--but the verbal gunfire gets pretty thick. Why, we've said things to each other that neither of us would think of saying in the hearing of anybody else. . . .17
In such situations, conflict seems to have replaced intimacy. Curiously enough, these relationships can be surprisingly durable. They may last a lifetime. But if one or the other partner tires of such interactions and seeks deeper involvement or a different mode of communication, the partnership is likely to fall apart. A conflict habituated relationship seems to have severe limits and does not readily lend itself to development or growth in the partners.
This chapter has explored some of the dimensions of conflict in intimate relations. We have seen that it can be either a creative or a destructive force in partnerships. Conflict is a necessary ingredient if an intimate partnership is to grow and develop. The acceptance and recognition of it is the first step toward its creative use. As long as conflict is seen as a means to an end--the growth and development of each partner--it can be a creative mode of communication.
When conflict becomes an end in itself, however, it is usually destructive. When it becomes a win-lose proposition for the partners, it tends to create a situation in which one partner gains at the other's expense. By losing, a partner can suffer a diminution of his or her personhood that is not easy to regain.
This chapter has also described pseudomutuality, a carefully programmed arrangement to avoid conflict. Pseudomutual couples adjust their life styles to avoid conflict to such an extent that individual growth and development become impossible. Clinical studies have identified this behavior as a source of psychosis in children.
We have explored four major sources of conflict--defensiveness, differences in background and outlook, inadequate feedback, and frustration. In addition, we have looked at some of the most common trouble spots in intimate partnerships--sexual relations, money, relations with in-laws, and divergent expectations.
Conflict can be creative when it respects the personhood of the partner with whom one is in conflict. It can provide an occasion for honest and open interpersonal communication that allows a couple to ventilate their feelings and clarify and define the issues in their partnership. Thus it can contribute to the freedom and autonomy of the individual partners.____________________