The Container Exercise – For Dealing With Conflict

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The Container Exercise:Container

Many years ago, I came across this simple yet powerful exercise for couples or anyone experiencing stress or conflict in a relationship. The greatest gift one human being can give to another is listening with compassion and without judgment. You don’t have to agree with what they are saying – just listen.


Here is how it is done:


  1. Make a 20-minute appointment with your partner to do the Container Exercise. Make sure that you will not be interrupted for the duration of this exercise.
  2. One partner assumes the role of the speaker and the other the listener. Sit facing each other so that you can both be comfortable and maintain eye contact without physical or psychological strain.
  3. The speaker’s role is to speak for 20 minutes (silences are ok – it is your time) while maintaining eye-contact with the listener. No name-calling or physical contact is allowed.
  4. The listener’s role is to observe what the speaker is communicating verbally AND non-verbally. It is also important for you to listen to your own internal dialogue and emotional responses. Please keep a neutral facial expression and refrain from agreeing or disagreeing with what the speaker is saying. Do not take notes, and keep a gentle eye-contact with the speaker throughout. The listener also keeps time.
  5. At the end of 20 mins, take a break and switch roles or schedule another 20-minute appointment later. Remember, this is NOT about arguing with what the speaker said. This exercise is really about compassionate listening and relationship building. Love is a powerful healer.


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Anil Coumar, MBBS, MA, LMHC

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