Conflict arises in all meaningful relationships. Conflict arises between parent and child, spouses, and siblings. Conflict is a key part of what makes relationships meaningful. Healthy relationships are not those in which conflict never arises, but those in which conflicts are resolved successfully. Friction can create the sparks that give off light. But first…
Admit the Conflict is Real
Generally, people want to avoid confrontation. The problem is that 99% of the time problems between people don’t go away on their own. Instead, they tend to get bigger and bigger.
So admit that the conflict is really happening. Do some journaling to explore how you are experiencing it. Giving the thing that’s bothering you a name or a description is half the battle. It puts a frame around the problem and keeps it from extending its reach into the rest of your life.
Easier said than done, right? All kinds of fears surround this step: fear of sounding mean, fear of exposing yourself to attack, fear of ruining the relationship. But remember, the relationship is already compromised, or else you wouldn’t be feeling all those negative emotions. If you don’t move to resolve it with communication, it might destroy the whole relationship.
The first method is to open up communication about the issue with a face-to-face conversation. Pick a private location where you won’t be interrupted. If you prefer working out your thoughts beforehand, another good method is to write a thoughtful, carefully worded e-mail. You can also write down what you want to say and make a phone call with notes in hand. Sometimes, opening communication requires the presence of a neutral third party, such as a trusted friend or a professional therapist. Avoid methods like texting where you may not be able to express yourself fully. Or where there is an expectation of a quick response.
Identify Your Needs
Now that it’s out in the open. You don’t have to necessarily agree on what exactly the problem is—and you may not. That’s okay. Instead, focus on what each of your needs are. Then be prepared to listen for a long time. Try not to interrupt.
Focusing on needs is the best way to avoid the blame game, or bickering over who’s right and who’s wrong. Articulate your own feelings as best you can. Try to use “I” statements rather than “you” statements here. For example, it’s better to say “I feel like I need my private space,” than to say, “You never respect my private space.” If you both express your needs and acknowledge them, who’s to blame suddenly doesn’t matter very much.
If your partner, child, parent, or sibling suggests that your needs are not realistic, listen to them. Allow yourself the time and space to sit with things that may be uncomfortable. There’s a chance they may be right. On the other hand, there’s a chance they are just bullying you, and are not willing to work towards a solution.
Once you have acknowledged the problem, communicated, and talked about your needs, you are almost home. The last part is usually the easiest: brainstorm solutions. Each person should generate multiple alternatives. Then, see which actions each person is actually willing to do.
Make sure you get a real agreement. Silence, closed body language, and continual complaints may be signs the other person has not totally bought into the actions you’ve agreed on.
Finally, you want to have some sort of follow-up. Agree to talk about it again within a specific and agreed-upon timeframe.
Conflict resolution can bring us many positive things that are crucial to growth: a re-examination of our own beliefs, encounters with new perspectives, the chance to learn about yourself and others, and the opportunity to work toward a mutual goal.
Remember, the people we are closest to are not those who we magically agree with every time. They are those with whom we have shared experiences and solved problems. Not only is conflict resolution one of the best opportunities to learn about yourself, it is a building block of all significant relationships!
PARC © 2019. PARC (Park Avenue Relationship Consultants) is a group of highly skilled and experienced NYC relationship therapists working with individuals, couples, and families. We have private office locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Riverdale, and Long Island. Each PARC therapist has extensive clinical training and experience, and is fully licensed and certified by New York State. Privacy and confidentiality are guaranteed. Out-of-network only. For more information, please call PARC at (917) 340-7592 or visit parkavenuerelationshiptherapy.com.