Conflict! The very word often brings up fear. Yet all relationships have it. It's not the conflicts themselves that cause problems in relationships — they're inevitable. But it's how two people deal with conflict that can make or break a relationship.
What Doesn't Work:
What do you do when you have a conflict with a partner or someone close to you?
- Do you argue, debate, explain, defend, get angry, blame, threaten or in some way try to get the other person to see things your way and do what you want? Is it more important to you to be right and to win than to be loving?
- Do you shut down, withdraw or resist, refusing to even deal with the conflict?
- Do you comply with what the other person wants, giving yourself up to avoid the conflict?
How do you feel about yourself and the other person when you manage conflict in these controlling was? Does it bring you closer to each other or further apart?
What Does Work:
In my many years of dealing with my own relationship conflicts and those of my clients, I've discovered that there are only two truly healthy ways to deal with conflict.
1. Intent to learn.
Conflict can occur when two people feel differently about a situation. Rather than looking at a conflict as a win/lose situation, approach it as a wonderful opportunity to learn about yourself and your partner.
Thinking of a conflict in such black-and-white terms as winning or losing/avoiding does not lead to satisfying resolution for both partners. However, win-win resolution occurs when both people are open to learning about themselves and each other.
When partners approach a conflict with their own and their partner's highest good at heart, they're open and curious about each person's views and feelings.
As they each share their own feelings and perspective, each listening when the other is sharing, they gain new information about themselves and each other. This new information allows them to come up with a resolution that neither thought of at the beginning of the conflict.
The conflict gets resolved in a loving way, and the two people end up feeling closer to each other. Their intimacy is enhanced by their openness to learning. Conflict becomes a wonderful opportunity to learn and grow.
2. Lovingly disengaging.
What if one or both of you are not open to learning at the moment of conflict?
Many of us suffer from an automatic "fight, flight, freeze" response to conflict and when this is the case, it's far better to lovingly disengage than to stay and fight, or to withdraw or comply.
Lovingly disengaging is very different from withdrawing: The intent of withdrawal is to protect against being controlled by the other person, or to punish the other person by closing your heart to love. The intent of lovingly disengaging is to take loving care of yourself. When fear comes up and you can't stay open to learning, it's loving to yourself and your partner to disengage and do your own inner work until you can become open.
When you lovingly disengage, you don't stomp off in anger, muttering to yourself about how awful your partner is. You don't shut down and close your heart. The point of this move is to keep your heart open to both yourself and partner. You're disengaging only as long as it takes you to learn about what's being triggered to scare you, and to comfort yourself and connect with your heart. Once you feel open, reconnect with your partner and learn with each other.
What to do if your partner never opens to learning?
This is always a challenging situation as it means accepting a feeling of helplessness over your partner. When this is the case, I encourage you to accept that you have no control over your partner's intent, and to be very compassionate with yourself. Open up to learning with your higher self about how take loving care of yourself in the face of a closed off partner.
Obviously, if one or both of you never opens, the relationship will get more and more distant which could lead to the end of the pairing. On the other hand, eventually opening to learning is a major key in creating a loving, intimate, passionate relationship.
Margaret Paul, Ph.D., is a best-selling author, relationship expert, and Inner Bonding® facilitator. She has counseled individuals and couples since 1968. She is the author/co-author of nine books, including the internationally best-selling Do I Have to Give Up Me to Be Loved by You?, Healing Your Aloneness, Inner Bonding, and Do I Have to Give Up Me to Be Loved by God? and her recently published book, Diet For Divine Connection. She is the co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding® healing process, recommended by actress Lindsay Wagner and singer Alanis Morissette, and featured on Oprah, as well as on the unique and popular website Inner Bonding.