Conflict and Repair for Couples According to Star Trek

Thursday, March 31, 2022 @ 12:07 PM

All relationships, even the best ones, have conflict. Couples can be encouraged that it is not the absence of conflict which predicts a healthy relationship, but how that conflict is consistently managed that can indicate relationship longevity and mastery. When it comes to couples counselling, conflict provides helpful opportunities for growth and evaluation as you and your partner learn to manage conflict in a healthy way. If you feel like your relationship stumbles into problematic conflict on regular basis, this article will help you identify four unhelpful patterns of conflict and their cure utilizing imagery that will stick in your memory banks for when it matters most.

Dr. John Gottman coined four predictors of relational unhealth and poor relationship conflict as the Four Horsemen: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling (Lisitsa, 2013). The presence of one or more of these horsemen within conflict serve to gradually erode relationships that could be made stronger through meaningful conflict resolution and repair. So, how do we watch for these predictors and, more importantly, manage them when they arise? Think of Star Trek. Yes, Start Trek – it may provide a fun adaptation to these predictors and their solutions to help you move forward in successful conflict repair.

Deactivate Weapons:

Criticism is emotional weaponry and it signals that you are ready for a fight, and couples need to disarm to manage conflict. Coming into a difficult or emotionally charged conversation with an aggressive tone or statement is like locking your missiles on the target and being surprised when your partner fires back. Instead, by utilizing a soft start up and gentle tone invites your partner to match your tone when engaging in difficult conversations.

Peaceful Exploration ("I come in peace"):

Okay, this one is a bit of stretch, but consider the mission of the Starfleet exhibited in nearly every episode - exploration and discovery (“to boldly go where no man has gone before”). Admittedly, if you prefer lots of explosions and action sequences, Star Trek may not have been the show for you. However, having contempt (or a sense that your partner has nothing valuable to bring to the table) is among the highest predictors for divorce. Contempt shuts things down through mockery and a demeaning attitude towards one’s partner.

Contempt assumes the worst of one’s partner and tears down little by little, but an attitude of peaceful exploration helps promote respect and provide opportunities to express appreciation. Begin looking for the many and little ways you can express gratitude and appreciation to amass a bank account of respect for one-another instead of running into emotional overdraft brought about by contempt.

Shields Down:

In conflict, we can be quick to put our shields up. Any action of defensiveness means that we anticipate an attack and demonstrates an inability to take responsibility for one’s actions and conveys blame. Shields deflect and treat our partner’s well-meaning attempts of repair as unwelcome.

This posture, however, is understanding if one’s partner is being overly critical or attacking but, ultimately, supports a cycle of unhealthy conflict. In keeping with our analogy, it is understandable to have shields up when our partner enters a conflict with weapons locked and firing, but when this is not the case it is necessary to acknowledge there is no benefit to this posture in trying to promote healthy conflict. In keeping shields down, one is invited to accept responsibility for their words and behaviours and receive their partner’s perspective in a conflict.

Hailing frequencies open:

This refers to the open lines of communication between two groups – it serves as Star Trek’s equivalent of answering your phone. Stonewalling refers to an unwillingness to receive a partner’s influence. This is when someone shuts someone else out. It may mean that person is emotionally overwhelmed and needs to take a break. That’s okay but, eventually, lines of healthy communication need to reopen. When hailing frequencies are down, no messages are being received or responded to whatsoever.

This sort of behaviour conveys avoidance and may escalate conflict as well. We avoid when we want to escape an uncomfortable situation. So what do we do? The remedy is to engage in self-soothing, calming, exercises individually and re-open hailing frequencies for communication when you are ready. Take a break. Read a book or go for a walk. Breathe. Re-engage when you are calm and ready to implement the tools listed above.


Conflict is an unavoidable part of relationships that provides opportunity for couples to grow closer together and promote understanding. If you are feeling stuck in some of these patterns of conflict in your relationship, it may be beneficial to meet with a counsellor Calgary to practice and enhance the skills needed to promote healthy conflict resolution in your relationship.

Lisistsa, E. (2013). The Four Horsemen: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling. The Gottman Institute.