Relationship Conflict as a Disorienting Dilemma

Larry John Green, Kaisu Mälkki


This paper takes the form of an essay that investigates the phenomenon of relationship conflict as paradigmatic of what Mezirow (1994) termed a disorienting dilemma.  Understood in this manner, such conflict can be an opportunity to begin a transformative process. If that opportunity is taken up, the paper argues, it might obviate the necessity for major crises as a stimulus for transformation. Relationship conflict is inherently disorienting when it opposes the need to belong against the need for integrity. The paper argues that those needs are experienced sub-verbally and therefore, cannot be reflexively critiqued nor transcended until they are given a verbal form.  Once explicated and critiqued, however, a creative endeavor can begin to forge premises that reconcile what was formerly incommensurable. It is reasoned that having gone through such a process once, this method can be applied to other disorienting dilemmas. In addition, because relationship conflict is an intermittent feature of all relationships, the topic is engaging not only for a specialized audience of educators but also has something of value for all of us. Consequently, it can be a useful instantiation for introducing the transformative learning theory to the general public.


transformation; relationship conflict; liminality; sub- and pre-verbal

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