What are you fighting for?: Understanding Relationship Conflict and How to Address it
I lead a group for couples on how to bring intention into their relationship. This is a fascinating group and I learn so much from sitting with these couples as we tackle the many inputs into relationships that often trip us up. One recent topic was conflict. How do we have manage conflict in our relationship with intention? Does it matter if the conflict is between both partners or experienced by one partner from an outside source? As you can imagine, this was a lively discussion!
One of the first questions we had to look at was – What is conflict? Group members struggled to come up with a concept that was broad enough so that we could look at strategy, but essentially we were able to discuss conflict by a couple of groupings:
1. The roadblocks to achieving goals – This is most apparent when we want to accomplish a task and someone or something is prohibiting us from doing it. But, conflict can also be present when I just want something from you and I can’t get you to agree to it. In other words, I want to move faster than you do.
2.The lack of respect – This is often most present when boundaries are overstepped, there is an urgency that doesn’t allow us enough time to process, think or have our own internal process. This conflict can also be triggered when things don’t feel “fair” or out of balance.
3.The inability to have synergy – Conflict can be present when we are not all rowing the boat in the same direction. This happens most when one person puts their needs above the needs of the couple, group or family. While there may be a time when individual need must be prioritized, there must be a consensus from the group that it is okay to single out one’s needs.
4.The lack of emotional connection – This conflict is the icky feeling conflict. Basically, anything that feels bad or off feels like conflict. This can be a tone of voice, nonverbal communication or the energy I bring into the room.
So, if we can name those conflicts, what do we do about them? It would be unrealistic to think that every person would be able to cleanly say I am conflicted by a lack of movement toward my goals because you will not agree with my plan. However, stepping back and being able to ask each other about what they are trying to get across is a great first step. Can you imagine feeling conflict with your partner and being able to say, This doesn’t feel like we are really getting what we want from each other. Can we just hold up for a second? What is it that you want me to take away from this conversation? Here is what I want you to take away. Let’s talk about your issue first and then we can talk about mine.
Very idealistic to be sure, but with work, practice and some skill development, conflict can be turned into a meaningful process of connection and the ability to gratify each other.