Fire and Ice – Discover Your Conflict Management Style in a Relationship

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Discover Your Conflict Management Style in a Relationship

Often couples come for counseling and immediately state that they need help with communication. Very often that communication problem really means that they have different ways of managing conflict. There are several styles and depending upon which style your partner has, problems may be on the horizon.

Communication in conflict often has a fire or ice quality. Let’s examine each of these styles, remember that inherently none of them is worse than the other.

Fire style communication

What is fire but something that is hot and can catch quickly.

A fire communication style describes a partner who may be prone to boil over quickly.

Like the hypnotic flames of a fire, they can spread rapidly. When something triggers a person with a fire style in conflict their irritation will rise and they will communicate it.

They may at times seek to discuss the issues in ways that causes greater conflict, heated fights may entail especially if a partner uses criticism or demandingness instead of softer approaches of mindful communication.

Fire style communicators get enraged fast

Often a person with a fire quality in conflict will rapidly cool down just quickly as they can become enraged and then they will be glad to act as though no problem has ever happened. The take-home point here is that those who have a fire style is not very much bothered by their emotional reactivity.

In other times the person with this communication style may feel guilty and remorseful for things said and done while in the heat of the moment. It is a hallmark of an unhealthy communication problem that a couple has big arguments and then not process them.

Fire style communicators often threaten to leave the relationship

Another hallmark of the fire reactivity can be seen in threats to end or leave relationship while arguing, this leads to the tell-tell, make-up and break-up syndrome. As a side note, we are specifically discussing a communication style, this communication style can also be related to some personality disorders, such as narcissism and borderline personality disorder in which the person may be quick to anger, and also intermittent explosive disorder, but it’s also important to state that not all people with a fire quality have underlying disorders. 

Fire quality does not necessarily have personality disorders

Fire quality does not necessarily have personality disorders

Fire quality should also be safely distinguished from physical or emotional abuse. While those types often have a fire quality, they exhibit a much more serious pathology which should cause the victim to seek safety and law enforcement.’

In another way that fire quality can be beneficial in allowing the person who exhibits this quality, to be honest, direct, and when the power of the fire is harnessed, the willingness to explore difficult communication can be healing to the relationship allowing honest new life to address important needs and thoughts. Let’s explore more about the ice style of communication.

Ice style communicators try to avoid conflicts at all costs

People in the cool state and of the ice style of communication move toward cool distance when tough topics come up.  Inherently they try to avoid conflict at all costs, this communication style usually minimizes disagreements and quarrels, even when they don’t mean it.

A person with this communication style may purposefully exclude details that they fear could lead to conflict, sometimes being dishonest in the process.

Ironically this leads to conflict. The ice person may remain visibly cool during disagreements, but this definitely doesn’t mean that they are not having emotional reactions on the inside.

In my practice as a marriage counselor, I have personally seen many ice communicators in this state express something completely different from their frozen external state when an oximeter is placed on their finger many times their heart rates are cascading over the thresholds of 120 bpm.

Ice style communicators tend to resort to dishonesty to prevent arguments

While it is beneficial for the couple to not go up in arms about everything that happens like a fire person might, the problem with the ice communication style is that the important work of having honesty conversations doesn’t happen.

When we avoid talking about important issues we may miss chances for our partner to understand our needs and what is important to us.

When this style of conflict communication exists alongside a fire type there may be misunderstandings or all-out verbal arguments created as the fire person feels that the ice person is avoiding their feelings and doesn’t care.  

I usually help the couples I work with understand that, the ice person doesn’t care too little, they care so much that they are so overwhelmed with feeling its difficult to communicate.

Conflict management plan

Like all couples, the fire and ice communication styles will benefit from a conflict management plan. A plan for conflict makes the understanding known that disagreements are normal and important but creates a strategy for how they will be managed. Conflict management also helps both personals in a couple to recognize how emotions play into couples disagreements and with insight, two can prevent the possibility that trigger topics spiral out of control.

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