Experts help married couples turn conflict into connection

Relationship expert describes 3 'invisible connectors' for married couples

DETROIT – Up to 50 percent of marriages in the United States end up in divorce court, as couples argue about all kinds of issues, from money to sex.

But couples can turn conflict into connection. Everyone has an opinion on what makes a couple successful, but no relationship is completely without conflict.

"If you just don't talk about it, it will go away," said Barry Blum, who has been married 32 years.

To improve their communication, Lori and Barry Blum gave relationship expert Hedy Schleifer's workshop a try.

Schleifer has been married to her husband, Yumi, for 52 years, and said everyone tends to harp on issues.

"In-laws, sex, money, children, affairs," Schleifer said.

After working with couples in more than 30 countries, she said it all comes down to a power struggle.

"Now you're trying to get what you want by force," Schleifer said. "You're not in a connection anymore."

Instead, she teaches what she calls "the three invisible connectors." The first is the relational space.

"If we're going to have a good relationship, we've got to know how to take charge fully of the quality of the space," Schleifer said.

The second connector is called a bridge. Schleifer said nature brings incompatible people together so they can learn from each other.

"There needs to be a bridge so I can visit you and I can learn you because you're a different culture," Schleifer said. "You're a different language. You're a different ribbon. You're different music."

The third connector is the encounter. Schleifer said it's like getting lost in your favorite music.

"Then, suddenly, you are in an encounter with the music, and it's not you and the music anymore," Schleifer said. "It's all one."

She said if you honor the space and cross the bridge, you will create the condition in which an encounter will occur.

"The encounter is that I vow, you and me, and if there is an honoring of that, of that space, then the encounter itself becomes the space," said Dr. Donna Rockwell, a clinical psychologist in Farmington Hills. "The encounter becomes the space where I can grow and you can, and if it's safe, if we know the other understands us and honors that encounter, then we can meet somewhere actually arguing for the next 30 years."

Rockwell said she starts by having a couple remember what brought them together in the first place.

"In our current culture, there is so much external stimulation," Rockwell said. "There is so much television. We're always on our devices, and I think that there is a disconnect and I think it is important that we consider that impact and that influence on our relationship and put the devices away and actually come to this relational ground that she speaks of this encounter and this bridge to this moment to this. We're never going to have this moment again, so appreciation, gratitude that we have each other right now. That is, I think, the most important thing for couples to realize."

When it comes to how much conflict is too much, Rockwell said every couple is different, so what seems like too much for one couple might not for another.

About the Authors: