Most people view conflict as something to be avoided, but every conflict can be an opportunity to create deeper intimacy and connection.
What usually happens when we’re in conflict is we replay our childhood programming and wounding, and we unconsciously try to get our childhood needs met. While this is understandable and common, it is this self-centered orientation that leaves people feeling so disconnected, even if they are able to ‘talk things through’ or even ‘be heard’.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Few frameworks exist to help couples map their way through conflict in a way that genuinely creates deeper connection and intimacy, which is why John Wineland and I created this framework for you.
To do this framework justice, we’d need to write a book (or you could join us for an Art of Fearless Intimacy weekend, where we not only go into much more detail on this framework but spend the majority of the time in actual practical application, for each individual).
(*the video below also goes into much more nuance)
This is a three-stage framework* and in each stage the Masculine or Feminine orientation can happen inside a woman’s body or a man’s body. If each person is able to be aware of what stage they’re in, whether it’s along the Masculine or Feminine line, and whether it’s healthy or unhealthy, they are much closer to being able to identify what is needed to deepen, free and open the moment into greater and greater intimacy and love.
Learning how to offer and express the needy, jealous, dark and angry parts of ourselves, as integrated, whole fully expressed gifts is what distinguishes an open and intimate moment from a closed and disconnected one. It is necessary to include all of it to become none of it. To deny our selfish, or self-centered parts is actually to give them more power. When we provide those parts with space to be included, none of them define us.
The highest form of loving comes from an integrated tool kit of all of the above. Then you’ll have the capacity to create a beautiful, deep, artistic expression of love in any moment. Conflict becomes a sacred space where there’s no history—just two human beings in a moment of openness, playfulness, gifting, and loving.
Before I dive into the actual stages, it must be said: We all have every stage and none of us will ever grow out of any of them! In fact, attempting to grow out of the stages is a trap that many people fall into. What John and I teach is full integration of all them. We can learn to spend more time in the healthy and sacred levels – but only by recognizing and integrating the selfish, or self-centered level.
Stage One: Self Centered
This stage is all about Me. What do I want? What do I need? How do I feel? Am I getting what I want and/or need?
This is the most immature stage, and, yet, it is a necessary and even healthy stage. We all need the capacity to know what we, personally, want and need. This stage is only immature if we stay here, or believe this to be the full picture of who we are and what we’re capable of.
To move from self-centeredness to self-awareness, we need to know what we want and need. When we are unaware of what we need, we still try to get those wants and needs met – we just do it in more hurtful ways: complaint, criticism, manipulation, etc. The quickest way to shift this is to remember that underneath every complaint is a desire, so if you find yourself complaining, ask yourself what the desire is underneath. This is healthy first-stage work.
When you’re in a feminine self-centered moment, this will occur as not being heard, seen and felt, or not being loved (enough): “You just don’t understand!” or “If they really loved me, they’d…”
The masculine self-centered stage is focused on (getting) freedom. If you are in a masculine self-centered moment, you will be looking for how to get free: i.e. “I’ll be free when…..I make enough money, have enough sex, become the most present man ever (so ‘she’ stops nagging)….then I’ll be free.” If something needs to change so that you can be free, then you’re in a (first stage) masculine moment. If something needs to change so that you can feel loved, then you’re in a (first stage) feminine moment.
It’s important to remember that we evoke from the person we’re relating with the reciprocal of the stage we’re expressing (we share more about how & why this is in the video below).
So if one person is in their selfish, or self-centered, stage it will evoke the same in the other, i.e. when ‘she’ complains (an unconscious way of asking for love), that evokes ‘him’ burying himself in his work (an unconscious way of attempting to be free). Once you become aware of this, you have the opportunity to shift from a selfish stage moment to a healthy, or sacred, moment.
Stage Two: Healthy
This stage includes you as well as me.
The defining feature is of this stage is that we consider each other whole and complete within this stage. This stage includes most personal growth modalities: Authentic Relating, active listening, Imago dialogue, etc…
In the healthy stage, we can take our awareness from the self-centered stage abd bring it into clear communication.
The Healthy Masculine expression within each of us is: Boundaries, ability to follow through on goal-oriented tasks, being on time… The Healthy Feminine expression within each of us is: Vulnerable communication and expression of feelings, wants, needs & desires… (*more specific examples in the video below).
In this stage, while we take others into consideration and care about our impact, there is still a separation between you and me and the rest of the world. Where, in the Self-Centered Stage we might get into a yelling match when we see things differently, in the Healthy Stage we ‘agree to disagree’.
Stage Three: Openness & The Sacred
This stage is where we truly experience We – beyond even just You & Me.
The Sacred Stage cares more about Love than what either You or I want.
The defining feature of this stage is that our attention becomes more focused on what creates More Love, than on what I (or even You) want. This stage is beyond preference. This stage is about creating Art.
What does the moment call for? What will open the space? What liberates the most love?
This is some of the deepest spiritual practice that humans can do: In those times when everything in your nervous system it telling you to collapse, tighten, or close, the capacity & willingness to respond with openness, awareness, generosity & the courage to reveal yourself as a gift to another – this is true spiritual practice.
The Sacred Masculine gift (within any sex/gender body) in a moment of openness is to express consciousness and give freedom – through the body. When we give the freedom we we want to experience, love is liberated.
The Sacred Feminine gift (within any sex/gender body) in any moment is expressing love & energy through an open body; to reveal the truth of our heart, and give the love we want to receive.
In practice, this process is an ongoing exploration for every person, there’s never a moment where you will have arrived. And there is never a moment that cannot be deepened through our practice in this way. It’s important to notice in the details of your life how these things are occurring, or not occurring, and where you can bring more awareness, practice, play and openness to these spaces. When you do, you’ll be able to turn any moment of conflict, or just ‘meh’ into a moment of connection, beauty & depth – and all your relationships will benefit.
*Parts of this framework are based on the work of David Deida. Other strong influences have been Sofia Diaz, as well as work Kendra co-created within the Authentic Man Program – and is ultimately a synthesis based on Kendra & John’s personal practice & decades of teaching.