Wednesday, March 6, 2013

3 ways to improve conflict

I went to dinner with my parents on Sunday. My mom confided in me a recent hurt that she has felt because of something my Aunt had did. My mom is one who likes to keep the peace and therefore internalize and harbor these feelings. My mom begins blaming herself a bit, saying that she should keep her distance to avoid being hurt again. I had a huge epiphany at that moment. I am so much like my mother.

Whenever conflict arises, I have a tendency to retract affections, distance myself or shut down emotionally. This response was nurtured by parent's response to me. Not saying by any means were my parents wrong, they are great parents and were acting in the best of their ability. When my parent's withdrew, I in-turn withdrew. Eventually we would sweep our conflicts under the rug and return to our normal parent-child relationship. This was my model for responding to conflict.

Manny is very different from me in conflict. When we had our first argument, I started withdrawing and with-holding my affections. Understandably, it's hard for me to act in a loving way when I'm upset. In a way, I'm blaming myself and buy into the belief that if only I didn't care or distance myself - I wouldn't be experiencing this hurt right now. Manny turned my world upside down when he hugged me and held my hand as he explained to me why he felt hurt by me. There was no shutting down, no coldness, no distancing. He showed me love and affection while still feeling hurt. It was hard for me to comprehend at first. How could you love and feel affection toward someone who just hurt you? For Manny, it was simple. He expects conflict in our relationship and tells me that if you really love someone, you love them for and through the "bad". At first, it felt so uncomfortable for me. At the same time it was refreshing to feel accepted and loved even when I'm being "bad". A simple gesture of holding my hand completely changed my perspective and inspired me to change my habitual response. He also won't let issues slide under the rug - we will talk and talk and talk and talk about the conflict until there is a resolution.

"What we resist, persists" is a quote I've heard many times. Those 4 words holds so much truth. It's like when you first learn a new word or buy a car, the new word seems to be everywhere and you notice all the other cars like yours. When you make something a focus, that's all you seem to notice or get. When you resist anger, sadness, or fear - it seems to show up all over your life. When you resist the conflict in your relationship, it keeps coming up. If you shift that focus to improvement - that's what you'll begin to see.

3 ways to improve conflict:
  • Provide love and affection. In conflict, this is often when we need love and affection from the other party. Make baby steps from removing distance by showing affection even in conflict. Hold their hand as you speak or listen.
  • Stay open. This feels counter-intuitive. You just hurt me, why should I open up to you?! But as we close off and begin resisting, the issues will keep coming up. Being open about your feelings and bringing them to light instead of sweeping them under the rug resolves conflict. The key in expressing your feelings is to use feeling messages such as "I feel sadness when xyz happens". vs "I can't believe you did xyz" which makes the other person wrong. 
  • Stop resisting. "what we resist, persists". Relationships come with sadness, pain, hurt but they don't have to last. Expect that there will be bumps on the road instead of resisting those feelings. It's in our minds that we prescribe context to these emotions. Sadness is sadness but we assign "bad" to that emotion and resist it. If we just accept it as an emotion and let it be, it will no longer persist.

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