Tackling conflict

Hilary Smith

Hilary Smith is a writer with Relationships Aotearoa and an experienced counsellor. www.relationshipsaotearoa.org.nz

You've got the answer ! You know what to do. It's perfectly obvious that you're right. The ridiculous part is that your partner gets stubborn and totally refuses to see it. It's almost like this is a deliberate tactic to get your back up. And it's working.

Paris, a discussion

Be reasonable! See it my way.

You puff up your fur and yowl at your partner. They caterwaul right back. Conflict is centre stage and it's running the show.

It's not that conflict is a bad thing. It's normal. It's healthy. And relationships that don't express it can become stultifying. You just want to be sure that it's you and your partner in charge of conflict rather than conflict jerking your chain.

When conflict is in command you're driven by competition. You shift from wanting to find a solution, to wanting to make a point. You want to prove you're right so conclusively that your partner will squirm while they acknowledge how wrong they are.

What ever you're fighting about probably becomes entirely irrelevant. You're out to score points by taking out the opposition. When conflict is running you, you let your partner become the bad guy. And that's exactly how they see you.

It makes a bizarre kind of sense. When you let someone close, when you let them matter, you also open up the possibility that they can hurt you. Naturally if you think they're going to do that you defend yourself. And a conflict-oriented choice of defence is likely to be attack.

Attack strategies hurt like crazy so you both want to defend yourselves more. You push each other away and become more distant. Attacking encourages you to think there are only two possibilities, your one and the wrong one. It limits your options.

Of course you don't have to let conflict choose your strategy for you. You can keep a hold on the partnership you have and refuse to treat each other as the enemy. You can remind each other that you are disagreeing not disliking.

You might feel suspicious of each other's motives and intentions. That's a part of the urge to treat a potential source of pain as a malicious enemy to be obliterated. Acting on these feelings isn't helpful if you want to have a relationship.

To keep hold of your partnership you need to have confidence in each other's goodwill. Instead of worrying about whether you can count on your partner for that, get hold of your own. Bringing your own goodwill forward gives your partner something to depend on. If they haven't found their goodwill yet, your example might help them.

With partnership and goodwill your focus shifts from getting at each other to getting alongside each other. When you're on the same team, the affect you have on each other matters to both of you. Tackling conflict is no longer about fixing your partner so the relationship works. It's about changing and growing yourself, and having your partner's support while you do it.

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  • Wice says
    No matter what you do, some people just want to pick a fight all the time or go off in a sulk at the slightest disagreement. Such is life and there's not much you can do about it even with the best will in the world!
    • Starlite5 says
      I agree. What's life without it's ups and downs?

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