What’s your reaction to conflict?

Words of wisdom for this week

“Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
~ Eleanor Roosevelt

Show me two people in a relationship who don’t have conflict from time to time and I will show you a couple who:

  • are passive aggressive
  • spend very little time together
  • have hidden agendas and are unable or unwilling to share them.
  • no longer care, are in apathy
  • are insecure
  • were raised to believe that conflict is negative

Conflict is not a function of whether your relationship is new (you are still on your honeymoon) or has lasted for years.

Conflict can be a positive tool for building and strengthening a relationship or it can destroy one in pretty quick order, Then of course there are those relationships that hover in the middle in no-mans land. People who – are afraid of the conflict, avoid the conflict, run from the conflict. But, these people also live in a constant state of frustration, anger, disappointment, unhappiness, uncertainty and even fear.

Conflict is not good or bad, positive or negative. It is two different ways of looking at the same issue, subject or circumstance. What determines whether the outcome of any conflict is healthy or unhealthy is not what caused the conflict, but both people’s reaction or response to the conflict itself.

Let’s say you and your partner disagree on how to discipline one of your kids. One person wants to punish them the other to help them use the mistake as an opportunity to learn and grow. Your reaction can vary from: You disagree or you just listen and don’t talk. You argue and defend your position or you are willing to see the other point of view as valid. You fight raising your voice(s) getting nowhere..
You stomp away or start crying or, yelling or whatever your typical reaction to conflict is. A negative response can be a trigger for increased conflict or a positive response can contribute to the gradual movement away from confrontation and toward resolution.

Your reaction to any confrontation or situation, either positive, neutral or negative, that has the potential for disagreement or conflict is usually due to one or more of the following contributors.

  • Your ego(s) and your need to manipulate or control.
  • Your perceptual filter(s) and that fact that you both see things differently.
  • Your level of self-confidence.
  • Your self-esteem.
  • Your need for approval or validation.
  • The history of your relationship and its approach to conflict.
  • Your ability to have your emotional buttons pushed easily.
  • What is really going on inside one or both of you in terms of the quality of the relationship.

So, what can you do the next time you and your partner find yourselves in a heated disagreement? Here are a few things to consider.

  1. See the conflict as your partner reaching out to you for understanding, support, validation or compassion.
  2. See past the anger and see it not as anger directed at you but the expression of their inner fear about some issue or circumstance.
  3. See past their words and look into their heart for the cause of their pain.
  4. Recognize that regardless of the subject, it is not about someone being right or wrong, but about the willingness to learn and grow.
  5. Inject a Quality Pause in between their comments and your reaction. During the quality pause you quietly say to yourself, “I have a choice on how I react. Then respond accordingly. This quality pause takes you out of ‘auto-pilot’ and into the present moment.
  6. Develop a psychological anchor to stay calm and loving no matter what is being said or how it is being said. This anchor can be a thought, phrase or action you take that keeps you in control of you. This anchor could be anything from picturing the last time you were on vacation together and having a wonderful time to a simple phrase or mantra – ‘I am in control of my emotions. I am in control of my reactions. I am in control of my feelings.’ Anything that keeps you centered and in control.

The key is to learn to use conflict as a personal growth tool for yourself and your relationship. Not always an easy task when someone is berating you or screaming, and swearing at you at the top of the Richter scale, but the question is:

Do you want to keep control of your emotions and reactions or do you want to give that up to someone else?