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Understanding Conflict and Working Through It

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A lot of our conflicts are fueled by early childhood experiences, those internalized and unresolved memories that trigger anger and resentment and drastically influence the relationships we have as adults.

Basics of Conflict

Before you can negotiate conflicts, you need to first understand what you bring to them.

  • What triggers a conflict for you?
  • What are you feeling and experiencing?

That requires honesty without making excuses. It is so easy to see ourselves as a victim and play the blame game. However, when you give up your responsibility, you also give up your personal power.

Next is understanding others.

Why do you think they do the things they do?

When conflict begins, we can make a decision not to attack and defend but instead acknowledge the differences we have. We can respect others even when we disagree.

The goal in conflict is to come to some resolution or understanding that both of you can live with. That involves learning the skills of negotiation, listening, and communication.

If you believe you have no other option but to fight, retaliate, or give in, it’s time to step away and evaluate who you are and your core beliefs. Every person has the right to be themselves within the parameters of not taking advantage of someone or doing someone harm.

When there is a conflict we naturally assume it is because of what the other person did or didn’t do. But it takes two to tango – it takes two to remain in a conflict. You may not be able to arrive at the solution you want, but there is a solution of some kind available.

If conflict is ongoing, recognize when it begins, count to ten, take some deep breaths, go for a walk and ask yourself, “How have I contributed to this situation?”

This is different than automatically thinking, “I must have done something wrong to make this person act this way.” Each of us is responsible for our behaviors and for discovering why we do the things we do.

Resolving conflict

Conflicts can only be resolved when we face them, stop blaming, communicate how we feel and what we want, and take the time to understand where the other person is coming from. Otherwise, we will generalize the problem (“everybody acts like this.”) We will use put-downs, superiority tactics, or labeling to justify why we feel we are okay and it’s all the other person’s fault.

The first thing to do during a conflict is to acknowledge your feelings and own them.

Identify why the situation (not the person) made you feel the way you do.

Then ask for what you want. This is sometimes referred to as an “I” statement. “I get angry when I am talking and am constantly being interrupted. I would appreciate being able to complete my sentence.”

In that interchange, note it’s important to refer to what you are feeling, why you are feeling that way, and what you would like to have happen.

When you make an “I” statement, never use the word “you.” When “you” is inserted, it becomes an attack, and the other person will defend and counterattack.

When this goes on long enough, words become weapons of choice designed to injure the other in some way. Sometimes the damage can be brutal, leaving lots of scar tissue. A marriage or relationship can be so severely damaged that recovery is impossible. Words become like sharp knife blades.

When you are in a conflict, what is your goal?

What do you want for the result? Is it to be able to communicate better – to be better understood?

If so, before you can expect these things from another, you need to learn the skills of communication and try to understand the other person’s point of view. You don’t have to agree with why they feel or do things a certain way, but you respect it. This helps in negotiation.

Conflicts may be divisive but they can be great teachers

Relationships are never perfect.

Relationships are where we learn we are not the end-all – the greatest thing on God’s green earth.

… Where we learn that we don’t always get what we want.

…Where we learn to appreciate our differences.

…Where we learn to negotiate and compromise and sacrifice personal wants.

…Where we learn that our need for each other is more important than winning a battle.

…Where we learn to practice the concepts of love and grace.

… Where we learn to give and receive.

The hidden questions within our conflicts:

  • What do I really want?
  • What do I need from the other?
  • What does the other need from me?
  • What will be different – what will remain the same?
  • What is the most important priority in this conflict?
  • Am I willing to work towards a win-win?

We enter relationships because we need people.

We want to be loved and accepted for who we are in spite of our shortcomings. We want to be heard and understood. We want what a relationship can bring, but we aren’t always ready to work on making that happen. Yet, moving in and out of relationships is not very satisfying over the long term.

So, is there any hope? Is there ever a chance that we won’t be in some kind of ongoing conflict without having to give up our rights, our wishes, our wants, our needs? Can there be a win-win solution?

Life is never perfect. But when we have identified a problem adequately, we can work on finding solutions.

We cannot avoid conflicts.

Our relationships will in some way be identified with how well we are able to negotiate and affirm each other. At some point, those relationships may break down. The best friend we thought would be loyal forever does some egregious thing and we struggle with our friendship.

Without listening, understanding and forgiveness, those good friendships can end up on the garbage heap. Instead of doing things together, we find ourselves at opposite sides of life. It doesn’t feel good, and we wonder how we got there.

The same is true in our marriages. I choose the word marriage, because within its tenants there is a commitment, even though we are not very good at honoring that commitment. A live-together may have the same ideals of a commitment but they are not spoken.

So where do you begin?

If you are anything like me, I don’t like conflict. Neither do I like to be used or disrespected. And whether I like to deal with conflict or not, it is a part of life.

I believe we begin by establishing the values and principles by which we will live.

  • What do you believe and why?
  • Do you change your values to correspond to whatever the culture of the day says it should be?

And if you do change your values, aren’t you at risk of becoming someone who is not honest, sincere, and reliable? If you choose to follow a religion of hate, you will not only destroy yourself, but others around you.

I have chosen to follow the tenants of Christianity that has its roots in the beginning of time. It is where I find love, grace, forgiveness, and rules for living that go beyond the test of time. While I grew up in the church, each person who professes to be a Christian is required to eventually choose to make this their personal belief.

Review your beliefs and why you have chosen them. Be willing to live them.

Then, when you are in a conflict, make a personal rule that no matter how you feel, you will avoid pointing the finger or disavowing your beliefs.

No matter how egregious the situation, pointing the finger eliminates the need to check your own behaviors and intents. We are prone to seeing the other person’s faults but not our own. Or we only see our faults and never the other person’s.

When one finger is pointed outward, there are at least three that are pointed inward to oneself.

Based on A Couple’s Guide to Communication, by Dr. John Gottman

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