The LoveLife Blog: guidance on mindful, bodyful, soulful loving!

#38: The Beauty of Conflict

Jacqueline Hellyer - Monday, August 29, 2011

There are three important points to understand about conflict:

  1. Conflict is a perfectly normal part of a relationship. It’s impossible for two people to be so alike that they share exactly the same views and values and feelings as their partner. In fact, if there isn’t any conflict in your relationship, there’s something fishy going on: it could be that there’s a strong power play where one person’s view has precedence over the other’s, or maybe you’re simply avoiding issues so as to avoid ‘conflict’.
  2. Not all apparent conflict is actually a conflict. Sometimes it’s just like a drunk shadow-boxing in a bar - you don’t have to get involved. Just because your partner is flustered or even angry, it doesn’t mean you have to engage in a fight. So if your partner says or does something that makes you feel you’ve got a conflict on your hands, check in with yourself first to determine whether you really do need to get involved.
  3. If it really is a conflict, a point of disagreement or misunderstanding between the two of you, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Difference is good, it can be a source of creative energy that can make your relationship better and more interesting. And it certainly doesn’t have to escalate into a fight.

So, how do we use difference creatively, rather than destructively?...

Any interchange between people has a flow of energy. If you have opposing views and try to block the energy between you, you’ll either have a stalemate or the stronger person will win, neither of which is a good outcome. So try not to block that energy by being stubborn or rigid. Be open to it and see where it takes you. Flow with it, but don’t be swept away. Accept the direction the discussion takes and explore it.

To be able to let the energies flow it’s important that you’re strong within yourself. The ancient Chinese text “The Art of War” states that the fiercest enemy is one who is not afraid to die. What this means in a modern context is that if you're not attached to an outcome, you can’t be hurt. If you’re fixed on a certain outcome, or if you’re fearful of a negative response, you’re vulnerable. But when you stay open to your partner’s opinions, you actually hear your partner. This keeps both of you calmer, so you can be flexible, and you’re much more likely to manage the interaction smoothly and have a satisfactory outcome.

In practical terms, this means:
  1. Maintain an attitude of curiosity and openness.
  2. Seek clarity of feelings, views and options. Aim for mutual understanding.
  3. Stick to the point, avoid dragging in other issues or past events. Be concise and specific.
  4. Avoid escalating the problem with criticism. Be honest but tactful.
  5. Try to keep it light but not flippant or sarcastic, which can appear disrespectful.
  6. Be willing to compromise. Don’t give in, but don’t be stubborn, co-create a happy medium. Remember that it’s more important to be happy than to be ‘right’. If you’re not ‘right’ it doesn’t mean you’re ‘wrong’. Your relationship is not a competition; you’re on the same team!
It's also important that you know your own anger style - what your buttons are, what sets you off. You need to know your “red flags” so you can be prepared if they arise. And keep in mind that your anger response might not necessarily be ranting and raving, it could be clamming up and refusing to discuss an issue, which is just as ineffective as yelling.

And always be prepared to say you’re sorry. The genuine apology is a Noble Quality, and a major tool in a smooth life.


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