Having conflict is a natural part of life – it’s the way we express our differences, share our ideas and lean into discomfort to learn something new. We cannot possibly agree with everyone in our life all the time – that would make things pretty boring.
What do you know about conflict?
Answer this question by first asking yourself ‘what did I learn about conflict growing up?’. This question is an important one to reflect on because we learn all about conflict as a child and then we carry it into our adult relationships.
What was modelled to us is how we assume adult relationships work – this is the power of child development, it’s not what has been told to us but what we observe happening around us. If you grew up learning that conflict was dangerous and to be avoided at all costs, then you most likely will avoid conflict and not engage in it. If you learned that conflict was the main way to express feelings, then you’re more likely to enter into conflict ready and don’t try to avoid it.
And there are two types of conflict – healthy & unhealthy. If your relationship looks like anything in the graphic below, it’s probably time to have a sit-down and set some rules when it comes to conflict in your relationship.
Conflict is not about who’s right or wrong. Conflict is about being heard and understood in the relationship, feeling respected, and having trust in the relationship to resolve conflict as it arises. There are healthy ways to engage in conflict.
The key to having healthy conflict? The conflict that doesn’t damage the relationship but instead grows trust in the relationship, is to have a good set of ground rules (or boundaries) for conflict. Ground rules are established in times of peace, not in the middle of a disagreement, and are meant to be rules of engagement so that each person feels safe in the relationship.
Here are 5 things every relationship needs in order to engage in conflict fairly:
- Establish what’s ‘below the belt’ (yes, a boxing analogy). What things would you find unfair, hurtful, or a ‘cheap shot’ for your partner to do or say during the conflict? Share these thoughts with your partner.
- What does respect look like to you? How do you want to be spoken to (tone & volume) and what do you need for a conflict to feel respectful?
- Don’t fight just to fight. Stick to one topic and if things start to go off-topic, turn it around and bring it back to the issue at hand.
- What rules will you have about ‘walking away’. Again, we don’t want to avoid conflict but at what point is it okay to walk away – When things become too escalated? When too many below the belt shots are being thrown around? Decide together.
- Focus on the goal. The goal is to come to a resolution. This doesn’t necessarily mean an agreement but rather a compromise. Together you should leave the conversation feeling heard & understood.
And remember, feelings take time to resolve. After a conflict has been resolved, those feelings may still be there or they may go away quickly – it depends on the person. If you need space, or time to resolve on your own then tell your spouse or partner this.
Always remember to be open in your communication, show love & care during your conflict, hear each other out, and ask each other “how can we both get through this conflict in a healthy manageable way?”
Watch my latest Coffee Talk “Conflict in Relationships: How To Fight Fair” where I go in-depth about these 5 things.
Conflict can be a trust-building experience once you have established good ground rules and stick to them. Following through after resolutions build trust in the face of fear, anger and uncertainty. And if you’ve got little humans in your home, then this is an opportunity to show them how to have conflict in a healthy way. You can set ground rules for ANY relationship, and by doing so it allows you to grow all your relationships and lean into conflict in a way that leaves both people feeling safe and heard.
Some people often wonder “when does conflict need an intervention, a third opinion, a therapist even?” My answer is always as soon as you have the thought, don’t let it get so bad that the damage to the relationship is really severe. Prevention goes a long way and a therapist can really help in resolving the conflict, help set ground rules that benefit each person and learn new skills to grow the relationship. The road isn’t always easy or smooth but having a therapist involved can create quick change in your relationship that leads you both towards connection and reconciliation.
If you are ready for intervention in your relationship our door is always open. Contact us here to book an appointment.
(for the both of you)
- What did I learn about conflict?
- What’s my conflict response style?
- When I’m in conflict with ________, I feel _________ because _________.
- How would I like to respond to conflict?
- What gets in the way of responding that way?