How Do You Deal With Conflict in Your Relationship?
03.10.2016 by Dr Bob Wright
We’re all faced with two forms of conflict in life: 1.) Productive and creative conflict, which moves us toward our goals, and 2.) Destructive and unresolvable conflict that builds up without resolution.
In our latest book, The Heart of the Fight, we explore how many of us are raised with the notion that conflict is always bad and should be avoided. In reality, if you follow the rules of engagement and fight FOR the relationship (rather than against), conflict is healthy and productive.
The Conflict Monster
When we avoid conflict, our resentments become bigger and bigger, growing into this explosive monster ready to leap out full-force at our loved ones sometime down the road. Conflict has to be aired and brought out in the open. Otherwise, we see passive-aggressive actions, bitterness, and resentment eroding that connection between two people and creating distance over time.
There’s also another kind of monster: the person who ignites destructive conflict in a relationship because they’re a bully or acting too dominant. Beating the other person up emotionally or constantly tearing them down can also destroy a relationship. Relationships are based on mutual respect and love. If you love someone, you don’t dominate them. You might not agree with them, but you don’t engage in overt bullying or mean behavior.
In either case, it’s time to rid yourself of your monster. Most often, bringing conflict into the open is a win-win situation. Conflict brings out our deeper yearnings and feelings that might not already be in the light. When everyone is open and honest and engaging in the conflict, issues can be addressed and discussed. And yes, you can even fight about them (as long as you follow the rules of engagement)!
The Rules of Engagement
We’ve developed a set of rules to help you better engage in productive relationships. (We talk about these a lot in The Heart of the Fight!) Three of the most important are: 1. You must assume 100% responsibility for your own happiness and satisfaction, 2. No one gets more than 50% of the blame, and 3. Agree with and express the truth, always.
Think about how you engage with your partner when you’re fighting. Do you follow these rules of engagement?
When we start slinging around blame or saying, “It’s all your fault,” or “You did that on purpose,” we aren’t taking responsibility for our part in the situation. Similarly, if we cower down and say, “You’re always right, and I’m so stupid and wrong,” we’re taking more blame than our fair share. Blame is always equal from both parties.
Why is blame equal? Because each party is 100% responsible for their own satisfaction, meaning that if something isn’t satisfying you, it’s your job to bring it up and get it out in the open. If you are 100% responsible for your own satisfaction, you can’t blame the other guy for “making” you feel a certain way. It’s up to you to take control of your emotions and get your yearnings out there. If your yearnings aren’t being met, it’s up to you to speak up and say, “Hey, I need this!”
You must always agree with the truth as it comes up in conflict. This can be difficult, but it’s also a matter of trust. It’s okay to be angry about the other person’s rightness in the argument or be annoyed about a situation and express that, but you still have to admit the truth when it’s there. Admitting the truth shows you are trustworthy and keeps trust in the relationship.
Understanding the Deeper Conflict in Your Relationship
We each come into relationships with our own history and baggage. Maybe it’s something you’ve experienced from siblings, the way your dad reacted to finances, or the way your mother withheld physical affection. Everyone has a past, so when we walk into a relationship, we’re not a blank slate—we’re the whole of our history, our interactions, and our emotional experiences.
We have to understand that our partner is walking into the relationship carrying his or her own history and emotional “stuff.” When we put them together, conflict is going to rise. There’s always a balance for power and control. We spend the first years of a relationship just trying to get a handle on our dynamic and wrestling with how we can resolve our needs and meet the needs of our partner.
Essentially, we are bound to be involved in conflict. Conflict can either result in growth and productivity or damage and destruction. The choice is all yours.
If you’re communicating honestly and openly with your partner, then you’re going to let them know when they do something hurtful. You’re also going to let them know you appreciate them and try to listen to their truths carefully and openly.
We hold back because we fear the reaction or the conflict. Then we go around giving our partner the hidden middle finger, expecting them to pick up on our cues and sense something is wrong. This kind of hidden behavior doesn’t get the message across. Instead, we need to take 100% of the responsibility for our own emotions and tell our partner how we feel.
Engage in the conflict and allow it to help you discover your personal power and energize your life.
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Dr. Bob Wright is an internationally recognized visionary, educator, program developer, leadership and sales executive, best-selling author and speaker. He is a co-founder of Wright and the Wright Graduate University.
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