Conflict as a Driver of Evolution and Intimacy

Dr. Keith Witt Defenses, Emotional, Interpersonal, Love & Intimacy, Perspectives, Video, Witt & Wisdom: Live with Dr. Keith 2 Comments

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n this episode of Witt and Wisdom, Dr. Keith and Corey explore the central role that conflict plays in the ongoing evolutionary process from the Big Bang to today, and in our intimate relationships in particular — where conflict can either create more distance and resentment, or it can be an opportunity to create more intimacy and deeper connection.

Evolutionarily, conflict is a prime driver.

At every level, conflict challenges individuals and groups to create progressively more effective, complex, and less violent alternatives to conflict resolution — thus driving biological evolution, social evolution, and the evolution of consciousness (phylogenetically in the human genome, and ontogenetically in our individual self-directed, personal and relational evolution).

Pain and conflict guide psychotherapy.

Little bits of conflict or pain guide therapists towards the fractal boundaries within and between people — areas causing distress but potential sources of integration and growth. Therapists hover at the fractal boundaries of these conflicts, creating containers which encourage clients to cultivate love and compassion to transmute the distress into growth, love, and health.

The deeper the intimacy, the more likely we are to enter regressed defensive states.

Perhaps the most challenging conflict resolution is between intimates in service of maintaining and growing their intimacy. This is also one of the most complex forms of conflict resolution, though it often appears to be the most simple.

Couples that grow develop conflict resolution patterns that are more self-aware, collaborative, respectful, loving, and organized around getting back to love. This often includes major self regulation combined with increasing skills in repairing injuries or ruptures (conflicts) in the intersubjectivity.

Since defensive states always involve regressions and resistances to self-awareness, identifying, acknowledging, and regulating defensive states with increasing compassion and depth of consciousness is sin qua non of personal and relational evolution.

Conflict and sexuality

Since no two lovers are perfectly matched, and everyone has some forms of internalized sexual conflicts, sexual conflicts are inevitable between lovers. These conflicts arise and form fractal boundaries that can escalate into chaos and separation, or dissociative avoidance and separation. If nourished into greater complexity, they bring partners back to love and deep contact.

Because of the high emotional charges involved in sex drives and taboos, it’s easy to exceed emotional windows of tolerance and enter shame/humiliation/rage tinged defensive states which evoke separating chaos or dissociation. 2nd tier intimates can tolerate such reactions and expand their windows of tolerance to have progressive capacities for radical acceptance of themselves and each other. Radical acceptance tends to create opportunities for growth, intimacy, and passion.

Second tier conflict resolution often doesn’t even look like conflict

A couple recognizing resentment, fear, frustration, or distrust and almost instantaneously shifting into dialectical conflict resolution often doesn’t seem to be a conflict at all. Such communication appears ordinary and effortless from the outside — two people talking with interest about a disagreement or misunderstanding and returning quickly to mutual love and trust. Such conflict resolution actually reflects high levels of complexity on both their parts, requiring self-awareness, self-regulation, and abilities to stay grounded in leading edge values in the face of primitive defensive regressive reactions. It is an evolutionary achievement.

written by Dr. Keith Witt

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Dr. Keith Witt

About Keith Witt

Dr. Keith Witt is a Licensed Psychologist, teacher, and author who has lived and worked in Santa Barbara, CA. for over forty years. Dr. Witt is also the founder of The School of Love.

Corey deVos

About Corey deVos

Corey W. deVos is Editor-in-Chief of Integral Life, as well as Managing Editor of He has worked for Integral Institute/Integal Life since Spring of 2003, and has been a student of integral theory and practice since 1996. Corey is also a professional woodworker, and many of his artworks can be found in his VisionLogix art gallery.

Notable Replies

  1. Spent last night listening to this video. At work this morning listening to client and social worker engaged in conversation about what, if anything, should be done to protect child. Made me wonder how that conflict could be used to improve the child’s welfare.

  2. I really want to listen to this but there doesn’t appear to be an easy way to download the audio? Lately there has been a little icon I can click on and just get the audio. It’s been a game changer as I have a 2 hour commute each day and it’s been great to listen during that time!

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