Relationship Conflict as a Disorienting Dilemma


  • Larry John Green City University of Seattle
  • Kaisu Mälkki University of Helsinki


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


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.

Author Biographies

Larry John Green, City University of Seattle

Associate Professor, Counselling Psychology

Kaisu Mälkki, University of Helsinki

Kaisu is a lecturer in the department of teacher education research group of educational psychology at the University of Helsinki.


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