If only it were as simple as understanding what it takes to resolve relationship conflicts: reading a book, listening to a CD, or watching a DVD. But often, this is not sufficient to get the job done. “Just say ‘No’” or “Just do it,” or most of the other buzz-phrases of self-help advice that we hear on a daily basis don’t seem to be enough to get us to implement the suggestions offered by the speaker or author of the words. It’s not for lack of information and well-intended advice, yet doing the right thing, particularly in terms of relationships, is usually much easier said than done.
When it comes to dealing with conflict in relationships, for example, many of us are aware of the admonitions to speak from your feelings rather than your thoughts, judgments, and opinions, and to practice non-reactive listening without interrupting or “correcting” your partner, and to practice vulnerability rather than defensiveness when trying to settle differences. These practices are useful, and if we can exercise them they will undoubtedly make a positive difference in the process. That, however, is a big “if.”
Yet, despite what many of us believe, the reason that “walking the talk” can be so difficult is not that we lack willpower, commitment, self-discipline, or sufficient motivation (not that these factors don’t play at least some part in the process). But generally speaking, they are not the source of the problem. The real issue has to do with, what we refer to as “competing commitments.” Competing commitments (CC) are intentions that, for a variety of possible reasons, we are less than fully conscious of, and are in conflict with conscious desires that we have been focused on trying to fulfill.