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Navigating Conflict: Polarities are NOT the same as Problems!





I have been thinking a lot lately about polarities. Polarities are an inevitable part of humans being in relationships with other humans. Polarity is a part of all aspects of our lives and also a part of a part of the laws of science that govern our earth and our universe. In our relationships, we tend to view polarities as problems because polarities most often lead people to need help in relationships. It is polarities that can lead to gridlock and to struggle to find common ground. However, polarities are not the same as problems, which is very important to remember.


Unlike problems, which can be resolved, polarities are perpetual. They represent two opposing states or positions, creating ongoing conundrums that won’t simply disappear. Managing polarities is not about finding a one-time solution, but about consistently navigating and balancing their tensions over time for success.


There is a lot that could be said about polarities. There are whole strategies in the business world about dealing with polarities in management, in companies, etc. There is so much to learn about polarities in science and the natural world. But to me, the most important thing to remember is simply that polarities are not problems. In other words, polarities are not inherently problematic. In the words of the brilliant Joseph Campbell, “When you lose the tension of polarities, you lose the tension of life.” We don’t want to lose the tension of life, and so the goal is not to eliminate polarities. That would be highly problematic. The goal is to manage the tension between the polarities in a sustainable long-term way.


Dr. John Gottman calls polarities “perpetual problems” or “unsolvable problems,” and they make up ⅔ of the issues that couples struggle with in their relationships. Most couples deal with polarities most of the time but think about them like problems that they should be able to solve and fix. This is why they are getting stuck; they are approaching them in the wrong way.


In a relationship, you can only work to successfully manage the tension of your polarities through things like listening, collaboration, compromise, give-and-take, respect, sensitivity, consideration, affection, humor, empathizing with the human experience of each other, creating boundaries, having solid psychological boundaries, differentiating, communicating expectations, and learning very solid, skilled communication. In short, it takes work! There is no “5-step solution” or “3-step trick” to managing polarities. To do it well requires a commitment to a lot of growth and daily, if not minute-to-minute, work in many different areas.


My goal is always to help couples manage their polarities more effectively and teach them how to start doing this instead of trying to “solve” and eliminate them. For many couples, this is a whole new way of thinking, and many couples lack the skills to get started because managing polarities is not exactly something that we are taught in school! Polarities are not hopeless; they add a lot to a relationship. If you are willing to put in the work and do a lot of learning and growing, polarities can successfully exist together and be held in their tension over a lifetime. The result of successfully managing polarities is not a diminished relationship but a sense of renewed life.



If you would like help managing your polarities and stopping thinking about them as problems to be solved, schedule a free discovery session HERE to discuss your polarities and how I can help you learn to manage them differently. 

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