Relationships, Part 36: Constructive Conflict

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Here are a few major points that must be understood about conflict:

1. Conflict is inevitable.

No two people are exactly the same or have precisely the same goals. No one will want to do the exact same thing at the exact same moment you want to do it, for the exact same reason every time. The fact that you have conflict does not mean your relationship is going down the tubes. Nor does it mean that you are incompetent in relating. It doesn’t mean you’re wrong. It doesn’t mean he is wrong. Having conflict doesn’t even mean you’re having an actual conflict because a lot of times people are misunderstood.

If you haven’t had a conflict yet, you haven’t been paying attention.

2. Communication increases conflict.

Be careful of what you say if you come to my office for marriage counseling. If you say you want to communicate, I will tell you to have a fight. No fisticuffs, or even F-bombs, are needed. Just start talking about the things you have never agreed on. Couples stop communicating when they want to avoid worrying their partner, upsetting him, or goading him. In other words, when they are avoiding conflict. If you want to communicate, and I hope you do, then you will have to talk about some of the hard stuff, the stuff that may cause a fight. If you don’t want to communicate, then what are you doing here?

If you haven’t had a conflict yet, you haven’t really been talking.

3. Conflict is not the end of the world.

Conflict is the beginning of a real relationship, not the end. Before you had your first fight, you were not seeing the real person. You were being too polite to be genuine. Your first fight brings you to a fork in the road. Take it.

Your choices are:
• You can leave the relationship and try to find someone you will not have a conflict with (In that case, see #1).
• You can silence yourself and tell yourself and tell her you don’t want what you want (See #2).
• You can try to silence your partner (See #5).
• Or you can work this out (See #4).

If you work it out, then you learn that you can work it out. You can effectively compromise, acquiesce, and sacrifice something you love for someone you love. You know how to grow. That’s a good thing to know, a good skill to have. The worse that could happen is that you might learn that you don’t have to agree on everything.

If you haven’t had a conflict yet, you haven’t been real.

4. Conflict is like electricity: it can light things up, power change, or burn the house down.

Conflict has so many positive attributes, that we just can’t live well without it. We don’t know what the issues are without it. Without conflict, if we automatically got everything we wanted, we wouldn’t know the marinating flavor of deferred desire. If we could still just bonk each over the head every time we wanted sex, as in cave man times, we would have no need for poetry or music or flowers or fine food or any of the best fruits of civilization. If we could get our partner to fix the faucet as soon as we asked, we’d never learn to fix it ourselves. When you resolve a conflict through any means but force, you become a better person.

If you haven’t had a conflict yet, you don’t understand growth.

5. Violence is not conflict. Violence is conflict avoidance.

The angriest person in the room is not the strongest, he’s actually the weakest. People do not become violent when they feel capable and powerful. Capable, powerful people have no use for violence. People become violent when they’re scared. They think they need a quick way out of the conflict, so they hit, or yell, or throw things, or punch a wall to get you to stop talking. If you’re smart, you will stop talking, but it doesn’t resolve the conflict.

You haven’t had a conflict yet, if you’ve been violent.

6. Conflict can be regulated.

In order to enjoy the benefits of conflict, you need to know how to have it without blowing everything up. You need to follow the regulations:
• Pick the right time and place.
• Start with the easy stuff.
• Stay relevant.
• Learn something.
• Acknowledge feelings.
• Call the four fouls of an unfair fight: defamation, defensiveness, stonewalling, and contempt.
• Don’t be evil.
• Repair injuries.
• Detect dreams.
• Compromise.
• Commemorate what you have accomplished.

If you haven’t had a conflict yet, you can’t learn how to manage them.

Click here to go to the entire Relationships series.

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