The 3 SHAPES of CONFLICT: how do you fight with your partner?

Part 1 of 3 part series on Mastering Relationship Conflicts

David Jurasek
Nov 20, 2018 · 13 min read
The 3 Shapes of Conflict — by David Jurasek

Do you ever wonder why you and your partner always seem to fight in the same way?

The same eye rolling, arm crossing, turning away or finger pointing happens between couples, parents and kids, strangers and coworkers, in every car, bedroom, bus, and boardroom the world over. But, few of us understand the patterns we keep playing out. I am here to tell you that the way you fight is not unique, random nor unrehearsed.

Pic from Frida Bredeson on Unsplash

More importantly, does the way you fight — especially with your most intimate sparring partner — actually work?

In this article, I will reveal to you the three shapes of conflict. By the time you finish your read, you will be able to clearly spot exactly what you and your partner are doing to stay enmeshed in a pattern of conflict that is corroding the trust, respect and love in your relationship.

You will also have some solid tips as to what you need to do to evolve the shape of your conflicts so that your disagreements actually end up bringing you closer together.

Some Background and Context…

Book cover for “Aikido in Everyday Life: Giving in to Get your Way”

My learning to fight in ways that are more constructive and healthy really started for me in my twenties (two decades ago) when I was handed this little known book, “Aikido in Everyday Life: Giving in to Get your Way” by Terry Dobson and Victor Miller. Once I absorbed their incisive analysis and practical advice, I could not look at another tense and heated interaction the same way again.

To begin your discovery, I invite you to start by reflecting on this question:

Thinking of your last fight with you partner (or significant loved one), how do you FEEL about that conflict?

1. Still Annoyed…

If this resonates with you, look more closely at the Triangle (below).

2. Dreading a re-match

If this resonates with you, look more closely at the Circle (below).

3. Focused on what you need to do for yourself…

If this resonates with you, look more closely at the Square (below).

Ok, what if you relate to all three?

That’s normal and a sign that you are versatile, but think about the response that came most quickly and naturally. That instinct is a nudge about which is your dominant conflict style, the shape you take under stress and threat (explained more as you read on below).

Introducing The 3 SHAPES of CONFLICT…

The TRIANGLE

Three Shapes of Conflict: The TRIANGLE — by David Jurasek

The TRIANGLE is a way of facing conflict that is the most confrontational, forward moving, piercing and direct.

The triangle is driven by a desire for truth, action, growth and mastery.

The Immature Triangle:

Without balance and in it’s raw form, the triangular style of fighting shows up as agitating, blaming and picking fights to win. Eventually this war-like path leads to growing resentment, abuse, retribution and the ripping up of any remaining shreds of love and trust.

The CIRCLE

Three Shapes of Conflict: The CIRCLE— by David Jurasek

The CIRCLE’s way with conflict is to be round, flowing and indirect.

The circle is driven to be connected, loved, and approved of.

The Immature Circle:

Over time, we lose a sense of the partner who is such a watery and elusive force. The triangle can also lose a sense of purpose and be incredibly flaky and non-committal.

The SQUARE

Three Shapes of Conflict: The SQUARE — by David Jurasek

The SQUARE’s orientation with conflict is unflinching, solid, and grounded.

It is driven by a desire for certainty, order, comfort and safety.

The Immature Square:

A relationships that is rigid breaks. One which is flexible bends and weathers all kinds storms.

Do you recognize yourself having taken on one or more of these shapes during a conflict?

“Why do we act in these ways?

Is it wired into us?

Are we doomed to keep doing conflicts badly?”

It’s not your fault.

Pic by Jeremy Perkins on Unsplash

First off, in a state of conflict, and distress, we are wired to blame — ourselves, our partner, our genes, our mental health issues — something or someone. It’s a primitive attempt at survival — to find a cause and seek to destroy it.

The real reason we do conflicts badly is two fold.

First, we are all born with an innate predisposition —temperamental traits — that makes us more likely to be good at one of these shapes and worse at the others. For example, my default setting is circle (good at deflecting attack) then square (stubborn when I have to be) and finally a triangle, which I working on evolving so as to become more skilful at direct confrontations. My wife happens to be a triangle champ, teaching me how to do confrontation better. More on evolving your shapes further below.

Second reason we do conflicts badly is that we were never taught to fight well, that is to actually resolve conflicts into new agreements and understandings. The world is full of examples of people in power doing conflict badly, showing the most immature version of these three shapes.

What about Gender Conditioning…?

Of course there are notable outliers. But, to be a woman or a man who defies their gender conditioning means fighting against social pressures which always comes with a cost.

Regardless, our true natural instincts come out somewhere. We may have to be a circle at work as a woman, but if our personality is more fiery and direct, we may explode and pick fights at home with our partner and kids. Just like there are men who play at being stubborn squares (holding their own) in a sport context but then collapse at home and default to being wobbly circles appeasing their lover.

All that to say, if the shape of our conflicts is a mix of our wiring and our upbringing, this begs the million dollar question…

So, how do we EVOLVE the shape of our CONFLICTS?

So, the problem is not conflict itself. Conflicts are essential to growth.

It’s also not our fault that we suck at conflicts. We were born with natural strengths and weaknesses that make us over-rely on one or two shapes — lacking the balance of all three. And, that’s understandable because we were never taught really how to do conflicts in a mature and effective way!

Below I lay out how each shape — when evolved — deals with conflict. I also outline two starting suggestions on how to evolve your primary tendency into a wiser, more balanced and effective force.

It’s important to note that evolving our way of dealing with conflict is not about just doing the same thing — with just more skill and finesse — but, rather about integrating the three shapes together into a more powerful and transformative force.

Below is a painting I made to show how the triangle, circle, and square instincts can evolve to work in harmony and unity to make us fully response-able to transform threats and conflicts (both physical and relational). I break down each part below…

Painting of the 3 Evolved Shapes of Conflict ~ by David Jurasek

The Evolved Triangle:

How to Evolve the Triangle

The Evolved TRIANGLE — by David Jurasek

Two simple ways to evolve the triangle conflict shape, include:

  1. Integrating the circle and triangle. Learning to soften the edges, just enough to make your partner accept the confrontation. This can be done by easing into confrontation by starting off with a question or a gesture of warmth and connection (circle).
  2. Integrating the square and triangle. This looks like leaning in less to attack and blame and more settling into owning your own truth. A powerful way to disarm defensiveness and the desire to counter attack in our partners is by owning up to it if we have been too sharp (harsh or critical) and acknowledging how that may have hurt and pushed them away.

The Evolved Circle:

How to Evolve the Circle

The Evolved CIRCLE — by David Jurasek

Two simple ways to evolve the circle conflict shape, include:

  1. Integrating the circle with the triangle means staying round and easy going while being focused and courageous enough to step forward to face our partner fully. Integrating the triangle means speaking up about whatever is uncomfortable and needs to be said.
  2. Integrating the circle with the square involves resisting the desire to avoid conflicts, space out or get too much into the future of possibilities. It means staying grounded, in our bodies and dealing with the reality of how we actually get along and how we both feel about our bond at this moment.

The Evolved SQUARE

This painting below shows how the square can open up to be come the walls and foundation to a house, able to hold and contain what is most precious and needing protection…

The Evolved SQUARE— by David Jurasek

How to Evolve the Square

Two simple ways to evolve the square conflict shape, include:

  1. Integrating the square with the triangle looks like stepping up to come up with suggestions and taking clear action that shows your partner that you are willing to take lead, not just obstruct or stand firm. It also means embracing discomfort and growing pains as part of the price of maintaining a secure relationship.
  2. Integrating the square with the circle involves rolling with the desires and invitations of our partner, especially when it’s not what we want. It means we need to be willing to soften up enough to un-stick ourselves when we get hunkered down by a low mood and/or a fixed way of seeing things.

On putting these insights into practice…

To start to transform conflicts between you and those you love, it takes much more time and practice to actually put that insight into action. Furthermore, to change how you behave in the heat of conflict — under threat and stress facing down your partner — that will take lots of practice.

But you want to do more than just read this, reflect on it briefly and default back to doing what you do later, right?

On Becoming a Student of Conflict…

Once upon a time, when I was twenty years old, I got off the buss heading home from a party at 2am. A friend and I were cornered by a pair of skinheads. What was most illuminating from this incident was how my friend ran to try and get away, while I froze and tried to placate them. They punched me hard in the side of the head and made my eye twitch sporadically for about ten years. The takeaway from me was how my instincts failed me. How I was terribly unprepared and unskilled at defending myself.

Owning my inadequacy in a fight was the first step to getting better at facing and transforming conflict…

This lead me to suck in my male pride and search for a dojo and a teacher. It lead to a few years of really feeling awkward and unskilled. And as I learned the art of self defence — as well as — what it takes to master intimate conflicts (see part 2 of this series to learn all about that) it meant I had to continually own up to how little I knew. Sometimes, this was a relief. Other times it was humbling and even embarrassing.

Are you willing to pay that cost to learn to do conflicts better so that you can take the lead in your relationship and start resolving fights sooner, increasing the trust, respect and love between you and your lover?

The WHO, WHAT and WHERE…

Who is it best to listen to and to train with in this domain?

What does it really take to evolve your long held conflict shapes and to finally stop having stupid fights with your partner?

And where is the best environment to learn about mastering intimate conflicts?

The answers to these three great question lay in part 2 and 3 of this series on Mastering Intimate Conflicts.

Because there are a lot of relationships experts out there (some brilliant and many not) and many places offering training in conflict resolution or helping couples, in part 2 of this series, I will give you a map of what to look for and what it really takes to master relationship conflicts.

See part 2, exclusively on Medium → CLICK HERE

Post-script notes…

David Jurasek

Written by

Grateful Father, Husband, Therapist & Sensei at: www.integritytherapy.org www.martialartofparenting.com www.powerfulandloving.com

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