Friday, 15 December, 2017
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The Joy of Conflict

A good friend of mine recently completed a blog post with these words of wisdom:

Confrontations in relationships are a bit like having pimples. When they surface, it doesn’t look or feel nice. We get embarrassed by them and hope no one else notices. Yet a confrontation can bring up a lot that we have attempted to contain that really need a release.

Are you uncomfortable with conflict in your relationship? Do you have things to get of off your chest but are scared of how your partner will react? Do you worry that it’s “all over” after an argument? Today’s post uncovers why conflict can be healthy and how it can actually make your relationship stronger!

When I was in my first ever relationship I dreaded the thought of conflict. My view of the perfect relationships was two people that always got along and never had a disagreement. Boy was I in for a journey and boy was I missing out on one of the most powerful aspects of a relationship.

What is conflict and why to we hate it?

Two animals butting headsThe dictionary defines conflict as a “serious disagreement.” When we’re in a relationship there are definitely times when we disagree on something. It might be as simple as how much you’re willing to pay for a new TV, or what time you’d like to both set an alarm or someone’s opinion of an event. Either way, it creates a time when two people are stuck in their world of what they think is right and are wanting to defend or protect their view of the world. It’s only when one or both people are willing to give up their view of the world or jump into the other person’s view of the world that conflict starts to deflate.

There is a whole list of underlying reasons why we dislike conflict. At the deepest level each reason is an offshoot of a fear of rejection. Keep an eye out for more a detailed exploration of these topics in other posts.

What happens during conflict?

It’s very common for conflict to start with a disagreement. This results in an escalation of emotions as each person fights hard to protect their view of the world and shatter the other person’s view of the world. Ever notice that during an argument you’re hardly listening to what the other person is saying? The majority of the time you’re concocting a response that will “prove them wrong” or “prove you right.” Each person tries as much as possible to find every angle in which they can attack the other person’s view of the world and defend theirs. Most of the time, conflict ends up with both people in the relationship blaming each other or picking fault with each other. Over time, this can erode the relationship and leave both parties feeling bitter towards each other.

Embrace after conflictBut of course, there is another way to do conflict which will make the relationship stronger. Let’s take a look at how:

  1. An event triggers an outburst.
    This might be something really small, where one person in the relationship says something to the other person that they normally wouldn’t, e.g. “why can’t you just be more supportive?!”
  2. Heated words are exchanged between each person, and some truths pop out.
    At this stage there is some sort of disagreement and emotions are triggered – anger is a common one. Both people are fired up and “not thinking straight.” What can happen here is that the couple gets stuck in the detail of what the argument is about. You’ve probably witnessed this in children where there’s a two and fro of “you said …!”, “no you said…!” The deeper they go into detail the more likely they are to disagree. BUT, the more they jump out of the detail, the more they will agree. A great way to break out of the to and fro is a simple recognition that they are not going to solve this right now and a few minutes apart might be needed.
  3. Both people walk away and the emotional charge starts to drop.
    When the couple is away from each other, it is crucial that they each do some internal reflection. This is where you can start to jump into their view of the world or simply jump out of yours. Some key questions to ask yourself are “what is it about myself that has caused such an emotional response? What am I trying to hang on to?” and “what can I change in myself to resolve this?” This takes the focus away from blaming the other person or trying to find fault in the other person to uncovering their own truth, i.e. you can start to shatter your own view of the world.
  4. Both people return and share their insights.
    After a few minutes of internal reflection the couple returns and shares what they learnt about themselves, e.g. “when I asked you to help and you sat on the couch watching TV it reminded me of my father who did the same and never took me to an important netball game when I was young. I felt really unsupported.” In actual fact, the person who was sitting on the couch was so engrossed in the news story that hey hadn’t heard their partner ask for help.
  5. The conflict is resolved and the couple grows stronger.
    The couple now has a deeper understanding of themselves and each other. Each person can see that they can let go of an old view of the world that they’d created when they were young.

Why does this work?

There are two key reasons why this works. When you practice this, you will find that your relationship will be stronger and healthier:

  • All conflict is an opportunity to uncover the truth.
  • The truth will set you free!

During the heat of any conflict, normally both parties are emotionally charged. This can be really uncomfortable, but trust me, knowing that something good is on the other side will help you get through. The key to conflict working is that you use it as an opportunity to tell the truth. Now is the time to let it out those truths “feel the fear and do it anyway.” Please note that sometimes new information, or truths, only comes up during a conflict. When it does, tell it to the other person.

Secrets add upSecondly, notice when you tell the truth, it’s like a weight off your back. When we hold onto something, it’s like carrying a backpack. We normally keep throwing rocks in that backpack whenever we and hide this truth. Soon it takes a lot of energy to keep wearing the backpack. Speak out the truth and you can throw that backpack on the ground and never have to deal with it again.

Please note that there is sometimes a period of time when the truth is spoken where each of you feel awkward. There might be feelings of embarrassment, guilt or rejection but they will subside.

In summary, there is a positive healthy side to conflict. It takes a mature couple to achieve this and every couple is capable of it. Practice this approach and notice how strong your relationship gets.

When this doesn’t work

Sometimes you may find that you are constantly in conflict, i.e. almost everything triggers you. In this case, I recommend seeing a specialist to have a third party take a look at what is really going in your relationship.

Additionally, there may be truths that are uncovered that you don’t recover from. At this point you need to ask yourselves a serious question – is this the right relationship for us you more? Once again, I recommend using your intuition or seeing a specialist to discuss what your options are.

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