Navigate Relationship Conflict With These Great Habits
When I was in my early twenties, I was attending university and still living at home. One day, my mother and I got into a screaming match accompanied by all the traditional conflict clichés including profanity, slamming doors, and statements instantly regretted. The cause of the fight? A bowl that had been incorrectly placed in the dishwasher.
How do we get to these points in our relationships with those we hold dear? What drives us to take a simple tension to the point of potentially damaging conflict? Often, it is because we are unable to communicate. But through the development of 5 simple habits, we can turn potentially harmful conflict into an opportunity for positive change and growth in our relationships.
Take a Beat
One of the most effective habits to build positive communication (but the one to which people are most resistant) is pausing the conflict. It feels counter-intuitive to back down, especially when you feel you are wronged and you have so much to say about it. One may even link it to some evolutionary self-protection measure where the act of backing down from a fight feels like surrender or the opposite of preservation. Yet, this habit will save you from yourself.
By allowing yourself a quiet few minutes, your adrenaline levels lower, and you are able to consider the tension and its source from a place of logic. You can have fun with this by establishing a code word with your loved one in advance of any tension to indicate the need for a pause. Or you can take a pause by simply requesting it. Simply state that your adrenaline is feeling heightened and you need to take a beat.
The nice thing about learning to take a beat, is that it allows you to begin again. Just because you’ve started down a journey towards conflict does not mean you have to continue. At any point you can recognize you are not happy with how you are handling things, take a pause, and then come back and begin again- ready to rephrase, listen more empathetically, speak without anger. Kids love do-overs for a reason- they allow you to feel okay about messing up, and give you the opportunity to do better.
Arrive back to the conversation prepared to listen to the other person and hear their perspective. When you listen, do so with empathy. Don’t focus on what you want to say or how wrong they are; instead, hear why they felt angry, put down, or ignored. Remember their thoughts and feelings are not a reflection of you as a person but a capture of their experience in that moment, so don’t interrupt!
When it’s your turn to share your perspective, use ‘I’ statements. You have most likely heard this before, but it is advice that can never be reiterated enough. When you describe your point of view through the actions of someone else, you’re missing a key aspect. While the person may have done something to cause you to feel wronged, it is your responsibility to explain the reasons it felt wrong to you. Using “I” statements also helps you state what you need without making accusations.
Remember, if you are not in the mind frame or you do not have the time to navigate a conflict, you can always put it in the parking lot. Similar to the feeling you may have when you take a pause in the middle of a conflict, it can feel wrong to leave things unfinished. As humans, we like resolution, almost as much as we like being right. But as the saying goes ‘do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?’ Some conflicts are major and should not be ignored but some are a side effect of your insecurities, a bad day, or a simple misunderstanding. Putting a conflict in the parking lot, with a commitment to revisit it when there is more time, or more energy can help you sort out which is which. Decide when you are going to come back to the issue. Chances are, when you do, it will be a conversation, not a conflict.
Some people actually enjoy the challenge of conflict and love the possibility of a strong debate. However, the physiological effects of heightened adrenaline and sustained cortisol can have long-term effects on our physical and mental health. Developing these habits will help you to side step the potential negative impacts to your relationships from conflict and allow you to spend more time connecting, rather than arguing, over who placed the bowl on its side in the top rack. Right, mom?
Check these resources out
Brene Brown offers some great guidance on how to focus on empathy in conflict, which can help you practice.
Tony Robbins has some great guidance for making “I” statements.