Turn Relationship Conflicts into Collaboration

Easy ways to transform painful relationships into powerful partnerships
by Doris Helge, Ph.D. © 2012


Remember the day you gazed into the eyes of your prospective partner and truly grasped that their excitement about you matched your fascination with them?

You saw your idealized self reflected back to you in their soft smiling eyes. You were hooked like a fish attracted to a shiny new lure that caters to its most vulnerable characteristics.

Like the fish traveling nonstop to a baited hook, you ignored multiple warning signs. You were lured to your destiny in spite of personality differences, minor irritations and questions from friends and family. Flaming red flags were buried under a rapid current of hormone-fed infatuation. Trust and lust controlled your left brain’s attempts to analyze and judge. Scorning due diligence, you lunged toward instant gratification with a voracious hunger and haste.


During the first part of your commitment to your new partner, you said goodbye to old longings and loneliness as you embraced new beginnings. When conflicts emerged, you eagerly re-embraced bliss . . . or at least contentment. Disagreements were labeled “small stuff.” Disruptive patterns were disregarded.

One day, the conflict resolution genie vanished without leaving a note promising to return. When you look at your partner’s eyes today, you no longer see your idealized self. Instead of feeling larger than life when you are together, he or she mirrors your own imperfections back to you. Ouch!

Tender topics are inflamed when one person is already feeling inadequate and the other criticizes. Some of us combat the fear of rejection or abandonment by pushing our partner away. We try to protect ourselves by rejecting them before they can reject us. In this toxic ecosystem, resentment, fear, hurt and anger fester like untreated wounds.


What now? One choice is to run from the relationship pouring salve on our sore spots and swearing, “Never again will I attract a partner like this!” The problem with this approach is simple. When we walk away with unresolved issues, we re-create the challenge with someone new. This individual is really the same person even though they’re wearing a different name tag. We’re all enrolled in relationship classes in The School of Life. We cannot graduate to a higher level of relationship ecstasy until we pass our current course of study.

A second option for solving the dilemma is to make a sincere attempt to resolve issues with our partner by discovering how we co-created the troublesome scenario. When we make this choice, we eventually delight in a deeper level of self-love. We learn so many fascinating, valuable things about ourselves that we’ll be more successful in every personal and professional relationship . . . forever . . . whether or not we stay with our current partner.

If you want to explore option two, you can discover the first step right now. We can play the “What if” game. Keep reading to learn how resolving unpleasant partnership challenges can be surprisingly simple, playful and fun.


Paula and Paul were magnetized to each other after a chance encounter. Enchanted, their attraction began to blissfully bind them like clothing sealed by a Velcro enclosure that feels “just right.” Their friends often marveled at how Paula and Paul overlooked minor disagreements.

Over time, unresolved issues began to weaken the fabric of their relationship like lint clogs and deteriorates Velcro that isn’t cleaned. Eventually, hurt, resentment and fear became so deeply embedded that the couple’s original attraction could no longer seal them in serenity.

Paula complained, “Paul’s such a perfectionist. He’s always judging how I do things. I’ll never measure up to his impossible standards. Our magic melted like a charred marshmallow when I realized that Paul needs a perfect partner. That’s just not me. There is no gray area with Paul. Everything is either perfect or not good enough. Maybe he was always a control freak and I never noticed it before.”

Paul was puzzled when he told his friends, “I hardly recognize Paula any more. I used to feel so special when we were together. Now she prefers her friends to me.”


In couples coaching, Paula and Paul enjoyed playing the “What if” game. It’s a non-threatening, non-accusatory way to communicate. Because our brains receive over 300 billion bits of information per second and only about 30 of those become conscious in even the smallest way, it’s essential that all of us remember, “I don’t know that I don’t know what I don’t know.”

When couples play the “What if” game, because each partner makes a commitment to receive amazing new insights, they do. The partnership grows through communication at a deeper level than ever before. One by one, new topics are explored with the wide-eyed wonder of a small child.

Paul and Paula made a pact to be as curious and open-minded as a two-year old investigating a colorful new playground. An initial exercise increased their confidence that they would discover something unexpected, amazing and delightful about themselves and each other. They made a promise to respect each other’s feelings and to listen to feedback with an open mind.

Their new game began with questions like:

• When my partner is irritated, what if he/she feels misunderstood, stressed or not heard?

• What would I be doing right now if I cared more about our relationship than about being right?

• I know how I’m feeling. I wonder what my partner is thinking and feeling right now.

• I wonder what my partner’s positive intention is when they irritate me?

• I wonder what they need when they seem irritated, defensive or accusatory? What would happen if I helped them meet their unmet need?

• When my partner is judging me harshly, I wonder how brutally they are judging themselves?

• How am I co-creating our challenge?

• If what I’m doing isn’t working, what’s a more effective way to meet my needs?

• How can our personality differences become a core strength in our relationship?

• When I don’t like our drama, I wonder how I can create a new story?

• How can we address our underlying fears that have been masquerading as flaws?

• What’s the easiest, fastest and most fun way to transform our painful partnership into a powerful partnership?

Paul and Paula grew tremendously from designing and playfully exploring curious questions. Although they began their coaching journey in a painful relationship, eventually, they were glad they had endured their discomfort, “Our relationship became as strong as super glue after we identified our weak spots and focused on our strengths.”


The “What if” game is only one of hundreds of ways a qualified relationship coach can help you strengthen the vulnerable spots in your relationship so your partnership becomes a primary source of stability and joy in your life.

© Excerpted with permission from the #1 Bestselling book, “Transform Pain Into Power” by Doris Helge, Ph.D. With over 20 years of experience, Dr. Doris has a proven track record of helping singles and couples like you turn painful relationships into powerful partnerships. See testimonials and receive a free ebook and teleclass at http://CoachingByDoris.com/communication. Sign up for the free teleclass, “Transform a Painful Relationship Into a Powerful Partnership” teleclass at http://CoachingByDoris.com/empowermeteleclass

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