Argument. Disagreement. Fight. Debate.
Whichever word you choose to use, conflict shows up in nearly all of our relationships. Conflict can stem from a misunderstanding, a miscommunication, dishonesty or boundary-issues. Conflict can be caused by one action or series of actions that leads to one or all people in the relationship feeling well . . . conflicted.
Experiencing conflict is usually unavoidable, especially when we consider the invisible luggage that we all carry with us. Though we notice that passive aggression, avoidance and even denial can play a part in how we handle conflict, at some point we are bound to run into some type of challenge that requires discussion with the people we care about.
Depending on the type of relationship, we can experience conflicts that result in us feeling angry, disappointed or hurt. For relationships that are toxic or abusive, conflicts originate from a power and control dynamic. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence helps explain this dynamic in more detail at ncadv.org/learn-more.
For relationships that include abusive dynamics, we want to be mindful that conflict is potentially harmful and even dangerous.
For relationships where both people in the relationship share equal power and abuse is not present, we can take a different look at how conflict shows up. Now, stay with me here, I’m going to put this on the table: Experiencing some conflict in our relationships isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, conflict in non-abusive/safe relationships can bring about positive changes and growth. Let’s take a closer look:
Conflict can get difficult conversations started.
This seems obvious, right? But reflect on this: when you or a loved one begins to discuss a concern that you have, you are practicing being assertive and direct. When we experience a disagreement, making the conscious choice to begin a dialogue with someone we care about helps us “get into the mud” of what other issues may be plaguing us.
Think, have there been moments where the conversation starts with one conflict, but other, bigger conflicts surfaced and were able to be addressed as well? Sometimes, choosing to start one conversation resolves many others in one setting.
Conflict gives us space to express ourselves.
It is important to recognize that conflict is sometimes the driving force that gives us permission to share what our concerns are. As mentioned previously, conflict does not just get these tough conversations started, it also gives us a moment to discuss the problems we are having within our relationship. This prevents us from holding in our heavy feelings to the point that we explode.
It is normal, common and expected to need to talk about the issues we are having with our loved one and what we need to do to resolve it.
Conflict gives us the opportunity to discuss or review our boundaries.
Many times, the conflicts that occur between people who care about each other are rooted in a boundary being crossed, disrespected or ignored. Our boundaries are important to us, and when we are experiencing a conflict with a loved one where our boundaries have been compromised, we can have an array of heavy feelings.
Notice when a boundary of yours has been compromised in a conflict with a loved one and speak life into it. Sometimes conflict gives us a chance to reiterate a boundary or concretely explain what one of our boundaries are. Going forward, your loved one will now have more information about on how to care about you the way you want to be cared for, and vice versa.
Conflict can help us practice using our internal tools to stay calm.
Simply reframing what conflict can positively contribute to our relationships is helpful. For instance when conflicts come up, we have the chance to put our self-regulation tools to good use. Pausing, breathing, safely releasing anger and actively listening are all emotionally-intelligent ways to persevere through some of the toughest of disagreements. View relationship conflict as a way to practice these skills. With practice comes safer and healthier relationship dynamics.
Conflict isn’t always a bad thing. Conflict gives our relationship challenges that we can overcome and grow from. The next time you experience conflict with an intimate partner, a friend, a family member or a work colleague, remember that you are experiencing something completely normal and that you both can come to a place of peace by reframing what conflict means in your relationship.
What do you consider positive about experiencing conflict in your relationships?