In the previous two newsletters we talked about building the relationship skills of expressing feelings and the art of listening. These are two skills that are very important in developing closeness and healthiness in relationships. But often people do not use these skills because they are avoiding conflict. There may be fear that if you really say how you feel about something, the other person is not going to be happy. It may even become confrontive, which you avoid at all costs. It is not unusual to want to avoid conflict. All of us do it at times. But is it good for the relationship? Is it good for us? Is conflict bad? And by avoiding conflict, do you get what you want in life? Sometimes avoiding conflict is about avoiding asking for what you need. When you avoid conflict, you may also be avoiding connecting within yourself to your truth. You are not truly sharing yourself and who you are, so it may bring about loneliness and a void, which is the opposite of what we want in relationship.
Conflict is a normal part in any relationship. It is neither good nor bad. It is using the opportunity, when something comes up that is uncomfortable, to communicate and sort through a difficult issue. Although it may seem noble to talk about compromise or to say nothing and just get along, it may not be the way to get to the core issues and really work things out. And if you are close to someone, the relationship needs to be safe enough that you can trust and be able to say how you really feel. If you are not that close but continue to have a relationship with this person, it will be only a matter of time before the issue comes up again in another way and probably bigger the next time.
Avoiding conflict really is not avoiding anything. It still is there, within you, and you still feel it. You may pretend you don’t feel it or really don’t care, but ultimately you are stuffing the feelings and eventually things will blow. And when things blow, because you just can’t take it anymore, often it is difficult to identify the specifics of the anger. When you avoid and deny your feelings for so long, you shut them off which is a very unloving thing to do to yourself. And then it takes the careful task of peeling back each feeling and trying to identify what it is that you are so upset about. And you may be hurtful in your approach to dealing with the conflict because of waiting so long you just don’t care anymore.
So the real goal regarding conflict may be that you want to develop the tools that allow you to handle conflict, leaning into it and walking through it rather than avoiding it and putting it off. It is so much healthier. (I didn’t say it was easy, but it is possible to get more comfortable with conflict as we practice). Couples who are able to deal with their problems and issues head-on are much more likely to be successful in their relationships.
Conflict needs to be faced. The first step towards facing and dealing with conflict is to identify what it is that really needs to be addressed. Were your feelings hurt, did you feel taken for granted, are you tired of doing all the housework? Identify the issue. If you are angry, try to go deeper than anger. Something probably hurt your feelings or brought up another feeling that you then covered up with anger. Try to identify the issues as they come up instead of waiting until you “just can’t take anymore”. Those tend to be smaller things. Pay attention to yourself and how you are feeling.
Second, address the issue when you are able to be calm. Getting angry does not help the other person to hear you, although people who do not deal with conflict often avoid the issue until they don’t care if they remain calm, which then can become a hurtful way of expressing yourself. It is important to get away from this pattern and address things in a neutral, loving way. This makes it much easier to manage and work through the conflict in a successful way. Use eye contact, feelings statements, “I” statements and stay neutral as you work your way through the conflict.
Third, listen to what your spouse/partner’s response is to your statements. He/she may have an all-together different perspective. Here you will use the active-listening skills that we talked about in a previous newsletter. Listening to the other person’s perspective does not mean you have to agree. But remember, if the other person feels as if you listened to him/her then he/she is more likely to also listen to you and your perspective. It is a much more respectful way to treat each other as you work through your conflict. And remember if you can learn to share with the one you love and care about, share how you feel and what you need, and can do it in a respectful way, you will enjoy a much closer enriching relationship. And it will be good practice for dealing with other relationships in a healthy way.Tags: facing conflict, relationship skills, steps in facing conflict
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner
- Janie Pfeifer Watson, LICSW, is the founder and director of Wholeness Healing Center, a mental health practice in Grand Island, Nebraska with remote sites in Broken Bow and Kearney. Her expertise encompasses a broad range of areas, including depression, anxiety, attachment and bonding, coaching, couples work, mindfulness, trauma, and grief. She views therapy as an opportunity to learn more about yourself as you step more into being your authentic self. From her perspective this is part of the spiritual journey; on this journey, she serves as a mirror for her clients as they get to know themselves—and, ultimately, to love themselves.
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