Conflict is as natural to the human experience as thunderstorms are to springtime. When left unchecked, conflict can generate heat and discomfort, disrupt interactions and destroy relationships. Between a couple, discord can lead to divorce. Between countries, hostilities can lead to war. But when differences are openly acknowledged and addressed, conflict can be a powerful source of energy and lead to creative solutions that encourage growth, deepen intimacy and strengthen bonds between people.
The world is made up of individuals with different ideas, wants, needs and beliefs, and conflict may occur when our differences meet. Like so many other aspects of human interaction, it’s how we deal with controversy that affects our relationships—with others and ourselves.
Some relationships appear to be without conflict. This can mean that everyone is in tune with everyone else. But what’s more likely is that some people are not being honest and real with others, or that some individuals regularly and routinely acquiesce to others. This is true with a couple, in a family, or in any group. When conflict appears to be totally absent, it is best to take a look under the carpet.
For some, the inability to face conflict comes from old, deeply imbedded fears, such as the fear of being wounded or absorbed by another. Or some may fear that there is no resolution to the disagreement. In avoiding conflict, individuals may lose themselves in a forest of fears where no one says what they truly feel or want or believe.
Without resolution, conflict converts to stress that causes all sorts of ills and disease and may ultimately release itself in explosions of rage, withdrawal, acting out, addictions and general unhappiness.
However, with resolution comes the release of fear and tension, clarity and remarkably creative solutions or ideas. A feeling of closeness may result or, at the very least, a deeper understanding, acceptance and respect for one another.
If you are reluctant to engage in conflict resolution, consider the following: Because people are different, conflict is natural. It’s more important to find clarity and unity than to be right. No one is right or wrong, good or bad; we’re just different. Conflict is about speaking up and telling our truth. Conflict is about being open and honest with others. There is usually a win-win solution somewhere. Resolving conflict keeps us from living in fear. Resolving conflict helps up clarify, sort and value differences. Resolving conflict can bring us closer together. Resolving conflict is respectful of ourselves and others.
Guidelines to Resolving Stress
Resolving conflict is a commitment to clarity, to listening with an open mind and an open heart, and to respecting and valuing one another and our differences. Following are some guidelines for working through conflicts. In some instances, it may be helpful to have a third person to help guide you through the process.
- Agree that no one will leave the session and that each person will be respectful. Commit to stay with the process until you reach an agreed-upon solution. If you need to take a break, agree on a time to resume.
- Have each person name the problem or conflict and describe feelings and thoughts.
- Own your part in creating the conflict/problem.
- Take time for silent reflection. During this time, allow each person to listen to his/her inner voice and consider each aspect of the concern. Affirm that there is a way to come to resolution. From this place of silence, tell each other any thoughts, concerns or considerations that arise.
- Stay with it until a solution emerges. Allow for all the time it takes. If you can’t find a resolution, you may need to accept that you disagree, or get professional help to continue working toward resolution.
Because conflict is natural to the human experience, the best way to deal with it is to create the kind of connections in which differences are acknowledged and supported as part of the ongoing and spirited process of being in relationship.