Hey everyone, I am back from a refreshing break and ready to dive back into relationships. I have recently been doing extensive research on couples as I have a few things brewing (stay tuned) and as I have added another avenue to my business. I have started working with a practice in my area where they needed someone to work mainly with couples.
Me being me, I have ordered even more couples and dating books than I already have and am loving reading about all the topics most people try to avoid. I figured I would take some time to write about conflict because, let’s face it, who doesn’t have some conflict in their lives?
If you Google “conflict in relationships,” most of the articles that appear have to do with conflict being beneficial to relationships. For the most part, if you are in a healthy romantic relationship, conflict will in fact help improve the relationship.
Theories like “Social Exchange Theory” explain that partners keep a balance sheet in their minds about their relationship. When the balance sheet feels off balance, conflict arises which forces the issues onto the table.
Usually having topics on the table can help couples to see, understand, and act on imbalances. Can conflict ever be bad for relationships though?
I started to wonder about all kinds of relationships, not just romantic. If you think about the totality of your relationships, most of the relationships you consider to be important are with people who you chose to have in your life.
There are a handful, however, who either have come into your life simply through connections like a boyfriend of a friend, a cousin of your wife, or even a family member and those who have come into your life because of where you are living and working like neighbors and coworkers.
Conflict seems to be more common with those individuals because some of the time those are not people you would not chose to have in your life circle. Because of their connection to those people or things we care about, there is a need to maintain a somewhat healthy relationship and cut down on the conflict. How do we do that?
Managing conflict is difficult especially when emotions are involved. The best practice is to step away from the situation when you feel like you are getting heated. If the conflict started in the break room at work, excuse yourself and state something like, “Things are feeling a little tense and I am going to remove myself right now so I do not say something I will regret.”
Taking the ownership of your emotions is always a good practice and stating what you are doing will give context, otherwise you look like you just walked out in a huff.
It is also important to state that you do intend on coming back to the issue at hand, but that you will do so only when the tensions have calmed. Sometimes, there are situations where the other person seems to be really upset. Give them the heads up that you are open to talking once they are able to regulate their emotions.
Nothing good will come of anyone talking out of primal emotions like anger or fear.
Remember that boundaries are good in situations where conflict arises and emotions run high. If you have stated your position of not wanting to talk while everyone’s emotions are high, stick to it. Keep a boundary around yourself for as long as you need so that you can process your thoughts and feelings.
When it comes time to discuss the issue, the chances are much higher of reaching a resolution after you have taken time to cool down.
In my experience with working with families, resolution or at least conversations of attempting resolution happen best in person. Telephone calls, text messages, Facebook messages are all deflections of emotions. They take the personality out of the messages sent so when conflict arises, it becomes even more challenging to understand the other person’s side.
I have practiced with my clients the idea of talking in the form of: I think, I feel, I want. It is much easier said than done because in a lot of situations, we are not even sure what we think or feel or want. During the space you take for yourself, really think about those three things.
The “I think” part is the logical, cognitive piece of the conflict. Describe what you think happened logically with no emotions attached. “I think my email was misconstrued. I did not take the proper time to think through how it could come across.” The key to the “I think” segment is taking ownership for your piece of the pie.
The “I feel” part is a little more straight forward when it comes to conflict. “I feel hurt by what was said and I also feel sad that our work friendship was hurt by this whole thing.” It is important to be genuine with these feelings when stating them in an attempt to create resolution. Be ready to really explain what specifically hurt you. In order to break patterns of negative communication, the other person needs to learn how what they are saying may be hurtful to you.
The “I want” part sometimes does not go so well in my sessions. When people hear “I want” it sounds selfish and a lot of the time people in conflict want their pain to go away. In some instances, it can be necessary to state, “I would like an apology for what had happened. I do want things to go back to normal, but because trust was broken, I need to see different actions.”
In my work, I have realized a lot of people expect/want apologies, but as stated in my previous post “You Aren’t Apologizing Correctly,” apologies can be fleeting and empty. Often after an apology, you still feel pretty much the same as you did before the apology.
Think about that when you think about what you want from the other person. Actions and words need to match when it comes to trust in relationships so maybe reflect on some actions that would help you feel like you can rebuild trust in the relationship.
Relationships are difficult to navigate especially those with individuals we may not have chosen to be in our lives. When you are able to have a conversation with limited emotions about the conflict, you triple your chances of reaching a conclusion. Using “I think, I feel, I want,” most people are able to gain a better idea of where the other person stands. If you decide to forgive and move forward, do it genuinely knowing you gave guidelines to the other person of your expectations.
Give my suggestions a try and let me know what you think!
Until next time…