Let’s discuss healthy conflict. That may sound like an oxymoron, because how can you have conflict and it be healthy? Isn't conflict, like arguing or fighting, something that people don’t want to do? It’s something that people want to try to avoid doing, something that is not pleasant. That’s true in a lot of ways however conflict is really just a disagreement between people. It's when you have a clash of interest, it’s when sometimes you just don't understand the other person's position, there’s a misunderstanding or not understanding. Sometimes it’s not being on the same page. So conflict is not always like going to war. It's not always about fighting. Conflict really just means you have a difference of opinion.
Now, when you're having conflict, especially in a marriage or in a relationship it gets extra tough because the most difficult kind of conflict that you can have is the kind of conflict that involves relationships and values. If you ever heard people say “Oh, you know don’t talk about politics at a dinner party because those kind of conversations are really fraught with a lot of feeling about your personal values. That kind of conflict can escalate because when you're not seeing eye to eye on your values it can get pretty heated. So being in relationship is tough. Being married is challenging. You’re spending a lot of time together and your individual people. You're not always going to agree on everything. You’re going to have the same feelings about something that your partner may have. You may have an opinion about something that your partner has a different opinion about. You’re never going to have a situation where your 100 percent all the time on the same page. It’s just not possible. It doesn't happen except in movies or on TV. So when you’re about being in a relationship you have to always consider being in conflict at some point. That doesn't mean it has to be every day or every hour but there is going to be conflict.
Compete, Avoid, Collaborate
When you're going into conflict there are some things to be mindful of. First is how do you go into conflict. What kind of stands to you to take? Usually if we're not thinking about it we're going to be reactive and previous posts we’ve discussed being reactive instead of thinking and deciding what you want to do. Making choices and being reactive or completely on opposite sides of the spectrum. You don't want to go into any kind of conflict being reactive but you got to know what your style is. There are those that go into conflict ready to compete. That's going into the conflict to win. I’m going to get my way. Some people are very competitive and that’s okay. If that's your style we have to know that. Some people go into a conflict avoiding, they withdraw, they ignore. They're doing everything they can to not get into conflict which ultimately can lead to more conflict. That’s, not necessarily a great option If I'm, not thinking about things I am absolutely avoided. I am not looking to jump into any kind of conflict. I'm not looking to win or to compete. I would much rather avoid it. Since I know this about myself I know what I need to think about and how I want to show up in a conflict. There are people that compete. There are those that are avoided. And there are also those that go into conflict and they're just really accommodating, ready to give in to whatever the other person says. Again not necessarily good or bad but that's a style. And then there are people who are collaborative. People go into conflict wanting to collaborate. This is when both parties are kind of putting everything out there and sometimes they come up with something new and different they're collaborating to create something. Is that good or bad I’m, not sure you just need to know what style you have
How Do You Show Up For Conflict in a Marriage?
Then there is compromising. Compromising is different from collaborating. When you compromise you are partially cooperating and being partially assertive You're not throwing away all of your values or all of your needs to come up with a solution; you are holding on to some but also being open to giving some of it away. Another way to show up in a conflict is to be passive which is like avoidance. When you're passive you give in and you focus on disengaging at all costs. Then there's passive aggressive. Everybody knows that one passive aggressive person. This is sometimes very difficult to notice. When you're passive aggressive, it means you're being indirectly resistant to the demands of another person and it’s really a way to avoid direct confrontation. So you're confronting someone or confronting something in an indirect way. That’s passive aggressive. Then there is straight on aggressive which I could see come into play with competing or on the other half of being accommodating or even with collaborating or compromise sometimes there's an aggressiveness that comes in there. So aggressive is when you're ready to attack or you're ready to defend your ready to confront. It's not as flexible. It’s very stern and sometimes you need that when you're in some kind of a conflict. The last one is being assertive. This means being confident yet forceful. When you are assertive you are not backing down you’re, not kind of giving in or giving up but you're also not demanding and pushing your will on somebody else. When you think about being in conflict how do you show up? What’s your natural state to be and where do you want to be. I think most people want to be in the compromise and assertive kind of categories but sometimes depending on the situation that's not realistic. If I am in conflict with my partner and he is for whatever reason dead set that this is the thing he wants to compete and he's going to win then we're not really going to get into the space where we can compromise. Then I need to decide which kind of how do I want to show up when he showing up like that. Maybe I want to be or I choose to be more accommodating and then once heads have cooled, we can come back and we can talk in more of a compromising way. Even though you have had one conversation you could always return to a conversation. So think about how you show up. Think about how your partner showing up. And then try to manage through the conversation as it is and then come back to it later especially when you have cooler heads.
So far, we've talked about conflict being clash of interest or a disagreement. It doesn't necessarily have to mean like coming to like fight but it can mean that too. We also discussed how some of the most difficult types of conflict are related to relationships and values which is that everything we do in a marriage and we talked about understanding and paying attention to how you show up in conflict and how your partner shows up in conflict and then you’re going to figure out what would be best in this situation. Can you imagine if you're both competing to win? How’s that going to turn out? Probably not very well because only one person can win and there are two people here trying to win. So this is an important skill It sounds easy but It's actually really hard.
How Do You Handle Conflict in a Relationship?
Now that we know what conflict is and we're thinking about how we show up in conflict and how our partners showing up in conflict we need to consider how are we going to handle it. How are we going to handle the conflict that’s right in front of us? Sometimes we're able to plan it and sometimes we’re not. You need to decide what do you want to discuss right now, is that appropriate or should we saved it for later. Before you can get there you need to think. And in order to think you need to calm your nervous system. You need to get oxygen into your bloodstream and access our pre-frontal cortex so that we can think. As soon as you notice that conflict is arising you need to breath, pause and exhale. Breathing in for three hold for a second breathe out for five. That’s going to help settle your nervous system to get you out of the Limbic system so you can think. Once you settle down then you need to decide what is the best way to communicate? Sometimes these conflicts happen over text. So does that mean you have to finish it over text? For some people text might be the best way to settle conflict because you can say something and then you can wait to respond. You can read your partner's message. Take that in. Let it settle and then respond. Sometimes text messaging for conflict is actually good but sometimes it's not appropriate.
What’s The Best Way to Communicate in a Marriage?
So understand what’s the best way to communicate Are we going to do this now or we going to wait till later? We can do this through text or are we going to be on the phone? Should we be a person? Should we be alone; should be at dinner? Think and make a choice about how you want to resolve this conflict. When you decide okay this is what I want to do, this is how I think it would be best to engage in this conversation or in this conflict, It’s really important for both parties but at least one to participate in active listening. Active listening means listening and letting your partner know that you're listening by repeating or summarizing what you're hearing. so your partner's talking, you’re listening and then when they're done talking you can say something like “okay so I heard you say X-Y- Z and then your partner says yes. And then you say okay so now I'd like you to listen to what I have to say and then your partner says okay so what I heard you say was X-Y-Z and you get to decide is that accurate. If it’s not accurate then you tell them well, it’s, not exactly what I meant. What I meant was and you try to restate it in a different way. One thing that people get stuck on is when they are trying to get clarification they just keep saying the same thing over and over again with the same words and sometimes to the other person it just doesn't click. It doesn’t make sense. So when you are going through this process, please try to explain things in as many different ways as you can until your partner or significant other gets it.
The Power of Active Listening In Relationship Conflict
It’s also hard because you don't want to move too fast through a conversation. If you're moving too fast then you don't know if your partner is catching on to what you're saying; they might be shaking their head and be like “okay, okay.” But then there’s just so much and it's so fast that they forget. I do that. It happens to me all the time. People tell me “too much” and I think okay, yeah, I got that and then when I have to think about “what did we talk about.” It’s very common; so when you are in conflict and you want it to be healthy we need to slow down, speak about one thing at a time. It’s really hard not to just let everything out at once; in one kind of breath. We can have eight different sentences and 20 different topics that we're trying to bring up and discuss. Keep it lean. Talk about one thing at a time. It’s going to feel like torture, sometimes because It's, so slow but if you can slow it down you’re going to get more understanding out of where your partner is coming from and your partner is going to get way more understanding about where you’re coming from and then you're on the same page. And then when you understand each other and ends up like not really being conflict, It’s just understanding. Active listening is really important. It’s a skill by the way that you really have to practice and if you have a couple’s therapist they’re probably helping you do that in session. And if you don't have a couple’s therapist, and you need help with active listening definitely see therapist.
Share How You Feel With The “I” Statement
The last thing is when you’re engaging in healthy conflict you want to when you're speaking to your partner use “I” statements. I see this all the time where someone will say I feel angry, I feel upset that you are doing this wrong It’s like is that really an “I” statement? “I feel upset because you are doing something wrong.” That’s really throwing an “I” statement into a “pointing finger ‘you’ ” statement. The reason why we do the “I” statement is so that we're not pointing the finger. When you're in conflict and you're pointing the finger the other person's going to get defensive. And when they get defensive they're going to need to defend and part of defending is to push back. So they're going to point at you and that escalates into nothing good. Really think about “I” statements I like to tell clients to stick with the “Big Three: Happy, Sad and Mad.” I feel sad when I don't feel heard. I feel angry when we can't agree on this. I feel happy when we are on the same page. It’s kind of awkward because we're not taught to speak like this but this is actually a healthy way to communicate. And once you get more skilled, it’s going to come a lot quicker and a lot easier. It’s going to be less awkward and then it will just roll off your tongue. But it takes practice. So when you are engaging in healthy conflict remember about “Pause, Breathe, Think”, decide what is the best way to communicate. Try to engage in active listening, and try your best to use “I“ statements. Last thing is you can always circle back to a conversation it doesn't have to get solved right then and there because something’s are harder to figure out.