How To Reduce Relationship Conflict Series
By Dr. Lawana R. Lofton, PsyD
Emotional maturity is crucial when we attempt to address interpersonal conflicts constructively. One’s ability to achieve emotional maturity is important in any relationship, but if you have not yet achieved your full potential in this area, there is still time. We all have a baseline, or starting point of where we feel most comfortable communicating with others, be it playful and engaging, or defensive, judgmental and hostile, we all have a dominate preference “style“ when we communicate with others.
Over time our “style” matures given certain situations, and it can also unknowingly help align us to others with similar styles or complimentary styles of communicating. For example, individuals tend to gravitate toward others with similar hobbies, interests, and world experiences, as well as similar maturity level and communication styles they can understand.
A long held belief in Couples Therapy, is intimate partners usually couple up at similar levels of maturity most similar to them, or unconsciously select partners who remind them of complimentary relationship dynamics they are most familiar with. This [preference] can be both positive and negative. We can select partners who are supportive and cheer us on to be the best we can be, and we can also as strongly unknowingly select partners who degrade and make daily living arduous.
Concepts of choice and necessity are always at play in adult relationships when conflict surfaces. We can accept the fact that conflict is apart of all relationships, regardless of age, maturity, and context, or we can continue to address conflicts in a unproductive manner due to a lack of insight or failed opportunities to learn new skills. In this article an opportunity is presented to review a select few dynamics at play in adult relationships to facilitate insight.
One of many theorists who describe human interpersonal relationship dynamics is Dr. Eric Berne, MD., Psychiatrist, in a popular book Games People Play. According to Dr. Berne, games are ritualistic transactions or behavior patterns between individuals that can indicate hidden feelings or emotions. This level of interpersonal communication is often unconscious; meaning the user is often unaware they are even using a specific form or [Game Theme] of manipulation to gain favor. The use of games is the result of what a person has become accustomed to in the past.
Simply, Dr. Berne discusses Ego States [Child, Adult, Parent] and individuals may have a select preference, or style, which surfaces in daily interactions with others.
In Games People Play, Berne defined games as:
“A game is an ongoing series of complementary ulterior transactions progressing to a well-defined, predictable outcome. Descriptively, it is a recurring set of transactions… with a concealed motivation… or gimmick.”
What are adult games?
The games Dr. Berne outlines in his book include the following:
Life Games: Alcoholic, Debtor, Kick Me, Now I’ve Got You……You SOB, See What You Made Me Do.
Marital Games: Corner, Courtroom, Frigid Woman, Harried, If It Weren’t For You, Look How Hard I’ve Tried, Sweetheart.
Party Games: Ain’t It Awful, Blemish, Schlemiel, Why Don’t You – Yes But.
Sexual Games: Let’s You and Him Fight, Perversion, Rapo, The Stocking Game, Uproar.
Underworld Games: Cops and Robbers, How Do You Get out of Here, Let’s Pull a Fast One on Joey.
Consulting Room Games: Greenhouse, I’m Only Trying to Help You, Indigence, Peasent, Psychiatry, Stupid, Wooden Leg.
Good Games: Busman’s Holiday, Cavalier, Happy to Help, Homely Sage, They’ll Be Glad They Knew Me.
The book Games People Play has sold over 5 million copies worldwide in ten languages, and reportedly during the 1960’s Games People Play was on the New York Times bestseller list for more than two years. The 21st Century has seen a ever increasing rise in book sales on a variety of topics, and any author would be pleased to have their years of research shared. This record also speaks to the volume of couples eager for relationship insight and solutions to the stressors they face in daily living. Dr. Berne’s detailed analysis of relationship dynamics has influenced others to include Dr. Thomas A. Harris, MD, Psychiatrist, author of I’m OK – You’re OK, (1967). Dr. Claude Steiner, PhD, Clinical Psychologist, author of Scripts People Live, (1971).
Dr. Berne would never accept publicly that the popular film Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with even racier games than his was based on his work, but the film does describe similar dynamics at play.
Countless others since have adapted relationship theories bases on this intellectual foundation, and they hold one fundamental core idea from the past; all relationships have conflict, it is not pathological to experience conflict in our intimate relationships, and gaining insight into the dynamics [games or scripts] we use to resolve conflict is immensely helpful.
What use do games have?
The concealment of ones true motives never has a positive outcome. When a partner has lost, or never obtained a mature, appropriate skill to navigate conflict, a happy ending as it were [both literally and figuratively] may be long in coming. If a relationship has become complicated by the use of games as described by Dr. Berne does not mean these couples are inherently unhappy? No, but what it does mean is we know based on research discussed in article Tug of War: Conflict in Adult Modern Relationships couples are less likely to divorce if each is dominantly positive and is willing to display appreciation for one’s partner in the relationship. Common sense right?…. “We like people who like us.” People generally do not choose to stay in a relationship to be ignored, have needs unmet, and made to feel manipulated by Power Plays.
Relationships who dominate in using manipulative games result in feelings of disappointment and feelings of resent.
Based on Dr. Berne’s writings, he would agree as well…….“games are always harmful because they involve deep emotional deception – the con.” At the conclusion of Dr. Berne’s research he believed that if an individual could “try not playing [games] long enough so that your favorite players will realize you have stopped and they may stop too….If things go well, you’ll get your reward in good pay-offs instead of bad ones.” (Eric Berne, Sex in Human Loving (1970, p.223).
The following is a brief description of the Life Game Now I’ve Got You, You SOB, from Games People Play by Dr. Eric Berne.
Now I’ve Got You, You SOB
This [Life ] Games People Play is similar to a competitive poker game. When one player realizes they have four aces, the winning hand, they know they have the upper hand. If a game of [ Now I’ve Got You, You SOB] is initiated, the player is more interested in knowing they have the other player at their complete mercy than they are at winning money, or being acknowledged for their excellent porker playing skills.
Now I’ve Got You, You SOB
This [Life ] Games People Play is an example of a person who hires a plumber to perform work at a contracted rate, no more and no less is the agreement. The extent each went to ensure the rate was exhaustive and it was clear the contract was a set rate of $400.00 or no contact. The contract was finalized and the work was completed as contracted, but at billing the plumber adds an additional $4.00 dollars to the charge for a needed rubber valve. As you can image the customer was not pleased and refused to pay……..“became infuriated, called the plumber on the phone and demanded an explanation. The plumber would not back down. The customer wrote a long letter criticizing the plumber’s integrity, ethics, and refused to pay the bill until the extra charge was withdrawn. The plumber finally gave in.”
Once the plumber initiated a provocative action of going against the contract, the customer felt entitled and justified in venting his unlimited rage.
“Instead of merely negotiating in a dignified way that befitted the Adult standards he [the customer ] set for himself, perhaps with a little innocent annoyance, he took the opportunity to make extensive criticisms of the plumber’s whole way of living…”
“…exploiting his trivial, but socially defensible objection (position) to vent the pent-up furies of many years of his cozening opponent, just as his mother might have done in a similar situation. ……He quickly recognized his underlying attitude (NIGYSOB) and realized how secretly delighted he had been at the plumber’s provocation. He then recalled that ever since early childhood he had looked for similar injustices, received them with delight and exploited them with the same vigor. ……In many of the cases he recounted, he had forgotten the actual provocation, but remembered in great detail the course of the ensuing battle. The plumber, apparently, was playing some variation of ‘Why Does This Always Happen to Me?’ game.”
If It Weren’t For You
In this [Marital ] Games People Play the wife has a complaint her spouse is limiting her opportunities to have a more vibrant social life. This dilemma leads to countless arguments and increased opportunities for the wife to not only complain to her spouse about the dilemma, but to all friends and family about how she perceives her spouse to be domineering. With more insight the wife discovers she has a history of selecting dominate partners, and an unconscious preference to be permissive, fearful, and dependent on one‘s partner to select social activities.
“…….As it turned out, however, contrary to her complaints, her husband was performing a very real service for her by forbidding her to do something she was deeply afraid of, and by preventing her, in fact, from even becoming aware of her fears. This was one reason… [she] had chosen such a husband.”
In this dilemma we learn it has become easier for the wife to blame one’s partner for a lack of social involvement instead of taking proactive steps to initiate activities for one’s self, and to overcome social anxieties felt.
What should individuals strive for?
Their personal BEST
Reportedly, Dr. Berne, after much success in his writing accomplishments discussed a topic with other Psychiatrists on his desire to help patients get better. Now, he ridicules that modest aim. He stated, “We don’t want patients to make progress, we want them to get well. Or, in our lingo, we want to turn frogs into princes. We’re not satisfied with making them braver frogs.” We can deduct he is speaking of psychological transformations, deep rooted change, which takes more than just raw bravery.
On the topic of change Dr. Berne would add once a individual becomes aware of their theme or game preference, one decides if it is beneficial to continue. The crust of therapy always occurs at this level. Here – at therapeutic insight; catharsis. Learn more about the benefits of Psychotherapy as explained in Psychological Précipice (2009, p.51).
Individual change occurs by taking more responsibility over what the individual wishes to achieve. Therapy is mentoring, providing opportunities to learn new skills, and maneuvering the patient with great finesse towards a direction more in line with what the patient has voiced they desire to attain.
Solution: A heartfelt recognition that all interpersonal relationships encounter conflict. If a couple says “we never have conflict” this is suspect. All relationships have conflict and it is not pathological to encounter difficulty from time to time. Divorce is less likely if couples appreciate each other and display a willingness to gain insight into what dynamics have become troublesome, then learn new strategies to over come them.
It is always better to share yourself with another; the real you which is vulnerable and beautiful. Share your fears, and change yourself rather then expecting your partner to change just to suit you! Change your faulty dynamics first.
A few personal character traits which seem to help individuals over come tension include: Displaying Confidence, Initiate a Date Night, Having fun, Generosity, Togetherness, Recreation, Positive interactions and/or Positive Communication, Feeling Personal Happiness, Excitement, Gifts, Flirting, or Take on a new challenge or hobby because this sparks passion which fosters more personal happiness felt by the individual.
Remember this list is not exhaustive. When I was in graduate school I had a respected advisor tell me when she was in doubt, she “baked cookies” and it always opened the door to more positive communication with whom she wanted to initiate a new conversation. I trust you will find your own creative way as well.
Until Next time: à Donf
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf? Getting Angry, Baby? Get The Guests
iPsychology Watch to learn more about Psychotherapy and Positive Psychology
Read more about Psychological Normalcy Psychological Précipice Author Website
Book: Games People Play Dr. Eric Berne, MD Psychiatrist
Book: The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family, and Friendships by D. John Gottman, PhD
Book: Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: And How You Can Make Yours Last By Dr. John Gottman, PhD