I and Thou

Close Relationships

Some Topics


Humans are critically disputatious, competitive, opportunistic and aggressively advance their vested interests. Conflict is the one certainty of human life. You can be sure that no matte where you look, you will find conflict in many shapes and sizes everyday. Conflicts are cognitive-emotive structures built from a few common tendencies – to compete, posses and prevail using anger, projection, case-making, blame, denial and rationalization. A typical human response to criticism and blame is to become angry and fight to defend honor and prestige.

If your theory of conflict started and ended with the dynamics of anger, you could not go wrong. In the simplest analysis, humans maintain peace by inhibiting anger. Conflict is easy to recognize when anger is expressed. Anger disrupts even the most loving, intimate relationships. While most conflict leads to confrontation, only some conflict leads to overt, physical fighting.

Conflicts can be resolved by timeouts, change of context, negotiation, mediation and separation. An overwhelming problem is the need for victory. When a loving couple enters an argument both participants want to prevail and the conflict escalates as each tries harder and harder to win. A simple solution to an argument is for one or both sides to concede.

Training to reduce and resolve conflicts involves learning to convert the innate structure of win or lose into win-win outcomes. As soon as a combatant realizes that winning is losing and losing is winning, then the substance of a conflict can be shifted. Win-win solutions to conflicts require creative thinking, concessions and compromises. These requirements are hard to achieve. The linkage is to learned skills of self-control, empathy and compassion.

One major is obstacle, innate narcissism, the inability to accept criticism or admit to errors, must be fully revealed, understood and ultimately overridden.

Complaining and Case-Making

Humans are tricky animals. You really have to be careful what you say and to whom. Every human is evaluating every other human critically every moment of every day. The easiest conversation to have with a fellow human is to share grievances about a common rival or enemy. The preliminary moves in most new conversations probe the possibility for common enmities. Trivial complaints are safer than major grievances. You have to be quite sure of common ground before launching a major assault on a mutual friend or family member. If you are persuasive, you can convert a neutral audience to share your enmity, but be careful, because you audience may go down the street and turn the tables on you.

Humans often have difficulty distinguishing between internal and external causes of dysphoria and most often look outside to explain why they are feeling badly. The tendency is to project internally driven dysphoria into the world outside, blaming someone or something for the inner state. The explanation given for blaming the other person is rationalization – an argument that is constructed reasonably but is based on a false premise. You make up a story which explains why you feel the way you do. Conflict ensues if the recipient of blame notices the claims made against him or her are unfair. The first conflict fuels a new and recurrent conflict. If the relationship continues, the participants experience an expanding repertoire of dysphoric feelings and irrational arguments. Couples who stay together tend to develop a stable set of conflicts, based on blaming each other for unpleasant experiences, hopefully, retaining some neutral territory where they leave each other alone.

Complaint stories have a general form and it is difficult to find humans who do not complain. It is easy to find humans who complain all the time about almost everything and everyone they encounter. Humans complain together as to establish affiliation and shared complaints can become an enduring social bond.

Within small groups, complaints are daily negotiations for social status and regulate the exchange of resources and goods. Projection and blame are common devices of journalists who write provocative opinion pieces. This journalistic version of case-making is the bread and butter of professional writers and is commonplace in television journalism. Complaining can be an individual response to group rules and commoners can challenge alpha humans if they have the right complaints.

Sexual prudery has always been an important dynamic in human groups and gossip about sexual liaisons is always the juiciest and sometimes the most dangerous topic of conversation. A woman can destroy a man’s reputation by complaining of sexual impropriety with or without cause. Complaints are developed into cases within the privacy of each mind. Case-making stories accuse others of character flaws, wrongdoing, and simulate a courtroom drama, presenting evidence, determining guilt and announcing the penalty. Cases build over time and often involve self-aggrandizing fantasy and rehearsal of speeches that can be used to complain to others or to confront the accused.

Females tend to make dramatic cases and act them out in front of friends as if they were auditioning for a part in a television drama. They test their stories on each other and reach consensus by sharing emotional outbursts. The guilt of the accused is determined more by the intensity of the storyteller's emotions, speech pitch and volume than by the substantial merits of the case.

Males tend to have different strategies in the complaint department. Women are specialists at sneak attacks, passive aggression and work covertly to build a case against an enemy. Men, in comparison, tend to be more demonstrative and their aggression is more easily seen. Men begin to discredit other men and find allies using derogatory comments and sarcasm. The idea is to discredit and marginalize anyone you do not like. When men feel secure that other men are allies, they become more demonstrative and voice more aggressive insults against a common foe with derisive laughter and backslapping camaraderie. Groups of men are most dangerous when they achieve loud camaraderie, based on shared enmity, because they can quickly generate enough aggressive energy to attack a common enemy. A volatile men's group can create a new enemy in a matter of minutes.

Hear About Case-making and Conflict

  • I and Thou focuses on intimate relationships. Innate tendencies are hard at work when people meet, become lovers and end with arguments and fighting. The same tendencies determine how family members interact and explain why so many families are “dysfunctional.” When lovers form an enduring pair bond, they often become parents and everything changes. Humans seek bonding with others are distressed when they become isolated. Humans bond to each other in several ways. The most enduring bonds are kin-related, based on closely shared genes. The deepest bonding occurs when mother and infant are together continuously from birth and mother breast-feeds the infant. Bonds among family members are the most enduring. Bonds to friends, lovers and spouses are the next most significant. Bonds to colleagues, neighbors and even strangers that are admired from a distance are next. Friendships are often temporary bonds, based on the need to affiliate with others for protection, social status, feeding, sex and fun.

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