The Five Elements of Conflict
Fights, arguments, disagreements, disputes, conflicts…whatever word you use, the meaning is the same when you are thick in the middle of it with your spouse: high-emotion discussions. No one likes these situations, but all relationships have their share of heated, often unpleasant moments. (If yours doesn’t, you aren’t communicating enough!)
Let’s breakdown what we mean when we talk about conflict.
Understanding the elements of conflict:
1. Conflict is a normal part of life
No one goes through life in a bubble of joy, sparkles and free kittens. Conflicts will present themselves in your professional and personal life. The key to going through these challenging moments is possessing the healthy skills that help you move towards conflict resolution in a way that is non-coercive, productive, and produces results that are agreeable to both parties involved.
Learning to manage conflict means learning good communication and listening skills. Being a good listener, allowing your partner to air his point of view, recognizing that you two are not adversaries as you work through conflict is all part of moving towards resolution in a mature, reflective way.
2. Conflict can be minimized and sometimes avoided altogether
Ever known someone who does risk management for a living? They constantly imagine future scenarios that may present risk for a company, and then work different variables to reduce the likelihood of those risky situations from ever developing.
The same can be done for conflict management. If you know certain behaviours will produce conflict within your couple, you would want to examine these and see where change could be made to minimize the potential for disagreement.
Example: you have a hard time being punctual and this is a major source of irritation for your husband. Solution: use alerts, alarms, start out earlier than needed…so that you arrive on time (and avoid conflict with your husband).
Avoiding conflict does not mean, however, rolling over and disregarding your own feelings in order to not cause a fight. That attitude seldom works and can result in pent-up anger and resentment.
The trick is to evaluate potential areas of conflict and see what needs to be dealt with in a healthy way, and what steps you can take to avoid unnecessary conflict.
3. Understand the different between major and minor conflicts
Figure out if this conflict is just a difference of opinion or an important disagreement. A difference of opinion is not life-impacting. Know how to pick your battles. Anyone who has raised children knows the value in picking carefully what you wish to work on with your child, and what you can disregard (or address another time).
So, when conflict presents itself, ask yourself if this is worth unpacking, or would everyone be better served if you just stepped around it carefully. So many couples end up wasting their energy nitpicking over issues that really aren’t such a big deal in the long run.
When you see conflict on the horizon, take a moment to pull back and ask yourself if this is something major that should be addressed, or something minor that you can easily just let go. Ask yourself how you are going to feel if you do one or the other?
4. Every conflict does not have to have a winner and a loser
This is one of the most important elements you can integrate. So many of us are taught from an early age that we must come out a winner, that being number one is the ultimate goal, and that there is shame in being thought of as a “loser”.
But conflict resolution is not binary. To the contrary, if you can use conflict to learn more about your partner as you listen to their side of the dispute, you are already a winner. If you can use conflict as a springboard for strengthening your bond as a couple, you are already a winner.
If you can use conflict to grow as a person, taking the lessons it gives you as you work on the issues presented, you are already a winner.
So even if you don’t “win” over your partner to agree with your side of the conflict, it’s ok. Using conflict to learn about yourself is one of conflict’s hidden blessings.
5. Conflict is really a life lesson in disguise
When conflict presents itself, your first reaction may be to balk, to gear up for battle, to start reciting all the reasons you are right and your partner is wrong. Your pulse quickens, your blood pressure rises, and you’ve got on your angry face.
Not a nice place to be in, right? What if you looked at conflict another way? Rather than looking at it as an opportunity to argue, why not examine all the things you could be learning from this situation?
Things like sharing viewpoints respectfully, moving towards compromise rather than a “win”, and allowing yourself to be open to another opinion and perhaps a better way of doing things? Seeing conflict as one of life’s greatest teachers is a healthier way to meet these challenging moments rather than viewing conflict as a war from which you must emerge the victor.