The Art of Confrontation: How Conflict Can Improve a Feeler’s Relationships

Feelers are hardwired to be connected. They make decisions based on other people's thoughts and feelings and spend energy trying to take care of those feelings, although they may not realize they are doing it.

Conflict accentuates the Feeler's decision-making style. Under stress, they are likely to revert to type and operate entirely from their emotions. Their reaction to conflict can be compassionate, mollifying and even sentimental - if there's any reaction at all. Invariably, a Feeler will do everything they can to avoid conflict and may give in long before the issue is resolved to re-establish harmony.

Let's take a closer look at the Feeler's attitude toward confrontation and consider how a little conflict might improve their relationships.

The Feeler and Confrontation, or the Fine Art of Burying One's Head in the Sand

Feelers are ruled by their heart instead of their head. They are empathetic, caring of others and easily hurt. These traits lead them to avoid conflict like the plague. If there's any risk that a disagreement might cause another person to become angry, upset or disappointed, then the Feeler will yield. They do this not because they are weak-willed. Rather, a Feeler avoids hostility because they are afraid that they will say something in the heat of the moment that will cause irreparable harm to someone they care about.

Withdrawal can be problematic. When used as a defensive tactic, it can suppress the give and take that is necessary in any healthy relationship. This leaves the Feeler with only three relationship options:

  • Conduct relationships on a purely superficial level to avoid dissonance, and risk facing loneliness and isolation in their interpersonal relationships
  • Allow themselves to be pushed around, which could result in self-esteem issues
  • Engage in "resentful surrender," whereby the Feeler disengages from conflict but is left with a sense of seething resentment about their relationship.

In other words, Feelers need to consider tolerating some healthy conflict in the name of improving their relationship, their happiness and their self-respect.

Conflict and Relationships, the Research

Research suggests that avoiding conflict is pretty maladaptive behavior. By contrast, individuals who engage in conflict often flourish in their relationships and personal development. For example:

  • Research reported in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology suggests that couples who address and resolve their conflicts are significantly more satisfied with their relationships than couples who do not.
  • Researchers from the Universities of Buffalo and Georgia found that conflict, under some conditions, may facilitate the development and maintenance of intimacy and satisfaction in a marriage.
  • Research from Baylor University's College of Arts and Sciences in Texas, reported in Psychological Assessment, found that withdrawal is far more prevalent in distressed relationships and has a negative impact on a couple's ability to resolve an issue.
  • Love Doctor Terri Orbuch's research found that couples who don't address the small issues in their relationship end up with far bigger problems that are really hard to unpack. In some cases, these problems can signal the end of the relationship.

What the research tells us is that shutting down confrontation is one of the worst things a Feeler can do. It is deadly because it prevents the type of negotiations that can bring about positive change in a relationship going forward.

So how can Feelers embrace conflict in their relationships?

Fight the Good Fight

Here are some guidelines that Feelers can use to help resolve problems in healthy ways.

  • Use your empathy skills - listening is the key to resolving conflict. Make sure you understand where the other person is coming from and talk about the problem in a flexible and considerate way, with perspective and without blaming (or accepting unnecessary blame) for your differences.
  • A problem shared is a problem halved - instead of treating problems like a tug of war, see where you can find middle ground. Brainstorm solutions together so that both of you feel like your concerns have been addressed.
  • Talk when you're calm - don't start a conversation if you feel overwhelmed by emotion as it will cloud your judgment. If you feel like you're losing grip on your feelings, table the discussion for another day.
  • Don't stonewall. Shutting down a conflict situation before you resolve it can make the other person feel completely alienated and worsen an already negative situation.
  • Avoid stockpiling. Even if you have allowed multiple issues to build up over a period of time, stay focused on one issue until it has been resolved. Trying to deal with too many problems at once can confuse things and stop you from identifying the most important grievances.

Above all, remember that people's feelings are their own. You're not responsible for your partner's emotional responses. If the other person gets angry or upset, this is for them to work through. You can be considerate of their feelings, just not responsible for them. Good luck!

Molly Owens

Molly Owens is the founder and CEO of Truity. She is a graduate of UC Berkeley and holds a master's degree in counseling psychology. Since 2006, she has specialized in helping individuals and organizations utilize personality assessments to develop their potential.

In 2012, Molly founded Truity with a mission to make robust, scientifically validated personality assessments accessible to everyone who may benefit from them.

Molly is an ENTP and lives in San Francisco, where she enjoys elaborate cooking projects, murder mysteries, and racing toy cars with her son.

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