Change your Thinking-
Improve Conflict Management
If you really want to improve your communication skills, particularly related to conflict management, it’s crucial to begin with changing your thinking. For the moment, forget about finding new skills, getting new tools. Start with changing your thinking.
New thinking helps create new and effective patterns of conflict management, which helps resolve conflict much more efficiently.
The new, more effective patterns create relief, which, in turn, leads to a happier relationship.
Changing how you manage conflict begins with changing how and what each of you think and believe about conflict.
The following are the logical places to start:
1. re-define what conflict IS
2. re-define what conflict is NOT
What Conflict IS
Conflict is a difference. That’s it. Male-female; that is a conflict because it is a difference. You and me; that is a conflict because I am not you, and you are not me. None of us is likely to change the other’s gender, nor who they are. It is those conflicts that initially attract us to one another.
As male & female differences, we experience the world from very different political, social, power perspectives, among others. We can either listen to how these differences impact how we relate to one another and learn, or, we can fight about them hoping the other will change. The former option is far more effective that the latter.
You and me as a conflict or difference also applies to heterosexual unions, alongside the female-male differences. It also is central to same sex relationships/unions. Each partner brings to the union their specific, unique differences. Neither of you is going to change who that other person is. Better to get to know each other via the differences, rather than fighting about them.
All in all, conflict is merely a difference. And that is all it is, a difference. The conflict is not a fight. A fight is simply a mis-managed conflict. It’s sort of like when you give directions to somebody to get somewhere and you tell them: if you’ve gone past “34th Street, you’ve gone too far.” The difference is very similar. If you’ve gone to the point of fighting, you’ve gone too far. Go back and start over, and manage more effectively.
There is not the time or space here to elaborate on what more effective management looks like. Starting over means more effectively managing what we think, feel, and do under the stress of the conflict.
Conflict gives us an opportunity to show and experience empathy, compassion, understanding and validation.
New thinking: conflict is the royal road to intimacy.
What Conflict IS NOT
Conflict is NOT war. Conflict is NOT bad. Conflict is NOT a fight. A fight, or a war, is what happens when a conflict is mismanaged. Conflict CANNOT be avoided, except at the cost of intimacy. Avoiding conflict is avoiding the opportunity for intimacy.
Conflict is generally NOT the problem. How we MANAGE the conflict is the problem. And how we manage conflict depends on how we manage what we think, feel, and do when we have a difference.
Managing conflict gets easier as you change your thinking. For example: instead of thinking “conflict is painful,” think “fighting is painful!” Allow yourselves to explore the difference, rather than fight about it.
For now, simply detach “fight” from “conflict, and instead attach “intimacy” “to conflict.”
Old thinking leads to repeating old, ineffective patterns of conflict management.
New thinking creates new, effective patterns.
So remember: change your thinking, manage conflict more effectively.
Be patient with yourself, and with your partner/spouse, as you work together to create effective conflict management patterns. As you become better conflict managers, the tension level in the relationship will begin to subside.
As you manage yourself better, you manage conflict better. Stop trying to manage your partner!! Remember, small changes lead to huge progress! No need to try to hit a home run, so to speak.
Conflict can help us understand ourselves better, and to be understood more completely by our partner. Welcome conflict! Work to avoid fighting.
Ultimately, conflict is an opportunity to build trust, become more intimate, and have a closer, more satisfying relationship. Now that’s a new way of thinking!
Wishing you a satisfying relationship,
Jim Hutt, Ph.D., MFT
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