Conflict Resolution Principles
by Marcus Antebi
Article at a Glance:
Take deep breaths while you're doing so in order to get your brain oxygenated; your brain operates better in terms of processing information when it's not oxygen-depleted.
How can two people who came together and once loved each other deeply fight and viciously tear themselves, their love, and their relationship apart? This can happen for many reasons.
What are some of the things that most commonly cause conflict? Misunderstandings? Fear triggered by things our partner says or does? Lack of compassion?
When we fight, are we moved by jealousy? Do we fight because we don't hold to the same ideals as our partner? Do we fight because of anxiety? Do we fight because we don’t have conflict resolution skills?
Do we fight for control in the relationship? Do we fight because we lose control and just stumble into arguments? Are we repeating childhood patterns? Do we fight because we lack compassion? Do we fight because we're not maintaining our own self-help work, or because our partner isn't?
All of the above.
When we are in conflict (and even when we’re not) we are slaves to the inner workings of our subconscious minds. Within ourselves, we have a tiny little person, our inner child, who has hands on the steering wheel and is navigating us to unknown destinations.
It's commonly believed that the subconscious mind is trying to restore itself back to a state of being from some long forgotten time. The subconscious mind believes that it is interacting with our primary caregivers and is trying to find peace by doing so. The subconscious mind is attempting to heal us.
What I've just stated is theoretical. But it's widely believed, and for good reason.
There is a lot of tension between the conscious mind and the subconscious mind. It causes conflict within ourselves and with those we interact with. This being the case, we need conflict resolution skills. We need to become diplomats.
We learned some conflict resolution skills in our youth. We learned such skills by watching our primary caregivers, friends, and others resolve conflict. Our natural dispositions drive our conflict resolution attempts to some degree. We learned some conflict resolution skills in school, and we picked up some such skills from society’s media (movies, television, books, etc.).
Conflicts are very often based in fear. Fear is likely the most common state of mind that causes a person to react (either appropriately or inappropriately) to a given situation. Usually, our fear-based reactions are defensive.
We engage in arguments trying to change the person we are arguing with. We do so because we want to feel safe and we want to be loved in a certain way. There are childish parts of us trying to change our parents or caregivers to love us the way that we needed to be loved in the past.
If we become conscious of our reactions and behaviors then we can stop behaving in old, inappropriate ways. But we will need to focus and exercise discipline a lot to do so.
A great resource in conflict resolution is saying the words “I am sorry” to the person we’re at odds with. Tell the other person you love them and ask for forgiveness for whatever you might have done to upset them.
I recall a moment during which I realized something about my relationship with my wife. We had a conflict, and I realized how dearly I loved her after the conflict occurred. I reviewed the conflict in my mind and realized that I was right about the matter at hand in which she wasn’t being compassionate about something. I asked myself if there was a way in which I could make my wife see my side of the issue, and I realized that I couldn’t.
I understood that it wasn't going to be possible to change my wife's behavior or way of thinking about the issue. Perhaps I could craft my words to carefully avoid a fight. But if she were to react, shut down, or attack, all I could really do was say I was sorry and tell her I loved her.
I would then need to just step back and be quiet. It would have been foolish to try to solve the entire conflict at that moment. I realized that when she was triggered, she’d say something to trigger me. We’d both become like frightened children.
When we’re in such modes of thinking, our brain patterns don't sync with our highest intellect. We're operating defensively trying to get ourselves out of safety. We’re entering into our primordial ancient brain.
To resolve conflicts, it's necessary to wait until emotions and tempers subside. And it's usually helpful to have a neutral third person present to help diffuse tension. Couples’ counselors can help in such situations.
It bears repeating that partners must be willing to apologize to each other frequently. At times when I have conflicts with my own wife, it's necessary for me to spend some time alone to get myself to the point of being able to apologize to my wife.
During such times I'll first sit and take some deep breaths. I'll ask myself what I can do to soothe my wife's brain and give her a chance to calm down and heal.
Then I’ll ask myself how I can tell my wife that my inner child is wounded. I want to explain to her that I need for her to love me to help heal my inner child.
After my wife and I have a conflict, we do certain things to get ourselves back into equilibrium. We tell each other that we love each other. We go on short walks holding hands and talking about things. Sometimes we go to a yoga class together.
Some people find it important to cuddle, feel warm, and perhaps engage in sex following a fight. But sometimes the waters can get muddied if there’s a quick transition from conflict to passionate sex. At times positive words might be more appropriate than intense physical contact.
Sometimes conflicts are too complex to be resolved on the spot. It can be very helpful if a therapist or someone experienced in the type of conflict that's occurring can help a couple resolve their differences. It's necessary to consider that many things stand in the way of resolving a complex conflict. Peoples’ thought processes, defenses, and subconscious memories of childhood all work against conflict resolution to some degree.
Defense mechanisms, in particular, complicate things. We all have psychological defense mechanisms that protect our psyches from falling apart because of the rigors of life in general. From the time that we’re born to the present moment we've all experienced disappointments, frustrations, heartbreak, fears, and other unpleasant states of being. When we’re children, our minds set up defense mechanisms designed to lessen our emotional pain and help us heal. But those defense mechanisms actually become a deterrent to our healing in adulthood.
A good tool for conflict resolution is the two of you talking things through. Another is deep breathing. During a conflict, it's good to take a deep breath, or perhaps three or four. While breathing, it's helpful to repeat the words, “I am triggered, I must not react, I must calm myself.”
Another great tool is a notebook. Whenever you're in a conflict with your partner, it's good to take a few moments to write out your feelings. Take deep breaths while you're doing so in order to get your brain oxygenated; your brain operates better in terms of processing information when it's not oxygen-depleted.
In our notes about conflict, we should write down whether or not we feel that our partner is lacking compassion during heated moments. Is the perceived lack of compassion causing us to not trust our partner?
We should look at the dynamics of a conflict when taking such notes. Are we seeing unhealthy patterns in our communications? Is there hyperbolic language along the lines of “you never do this for me,” or "you always do this” in your conversations?
When communication dynamics such as this are taking place, it's revealing that somewhere in our subconscious minds our primary caregivers didn't do certain things for us. Or perhaps our caregivers did something to injure us. If we look for certain statements and questions during conflicts, we can often trace them to unmet needs from childhood that are triggering present day reactions.
All relationships that we have been involved in have had degrees of betrayal in them. This was the case beginning with our relationships with parents and continuing in our present-day relationships. A child senses betrayal if he or she feels that their parents didn't save them from certain things; when he or she realizes that the parents aren't superheroes. And of course a child will feel very hurt and betrayed if they were abused or spoken unkindly to.
In order to become people who are not prone to creating conflict and who are skilled at resolving conflict, we must keep good daily habits. Such habits include journaling about conflict, praying, meditating, participating in support groups, and reading. It's also very important to exercise, employ good dietary practices, and continually do acts of kindness for your partner, even when you're at odds with them. Appropriate acts of kindness might include making them breakfast, cleaning up the house, bringing them glasses of water, and telling them encouraging things.
When I'm in heated moments of conflict with my partner, I try not to focus on how I think I've been wronged. I try to focus on the present moment instead. And I also try to keep in mind that my relationship is a vehicle by which I can attain a deeper level of enlightenment.
Another thing that's very helpful to me is to reflect on the fact that my relationship with my partner is an opportunity to help her achieve her own happiness. I need to ask myself if my own shortcomings make her unhappy at times.
How can I be of service to my partner when I'm angry? Perhaps it appears or feels as if service to the person making you angry seems counterintuitive. But consider the cliche “desperate times call for desperate measures.” Being of service to the other person even when you feel angry will help to either resolve the conflict or get it back to a manageable baseline.
What if the difference and the ways that the two of you think is so deep that you can't determine how to compromise? When that's the case, it's advisable to either seek therapy or call someone you trust to talk about the problems.
When a particularly heated conflict rears its head, the very first thing to do should be to find a way to alleviate some of the initial stress. Perhaps do 10 push-ups or jog around the block. Maybe do some deep breathing exercises or ask for a 20-minute break and go read a favorite self-help book to seek some balance and grounding.
Professional help for couples’ conflict resolution is very highly recommended. There are many nuances to the subconscious mind, and it's invaluable to have people who understand very complex emotional problems give us guidance on how to overcome them.
It's scary, frightening to a degree, how conflict can escalate so quickly among two people who love each other. So when you're at odds with your partner, you have to constantly be on guard against issuing threats or using abusive language.
Just because there's conflict in a relationship doesn't mean that the relationship is bad or beyond repair. It could very likely be the case that the two partners just don't have good conflict resolution skills.
The fact is that fights will occur, even in very loving relationships. Any two relationship partners should realize this and set ground rules about such fights. One rule should be that any argument must cease after a certain point in time in the evening. Another should be that even if an argument hasn't been resolved, the two of you should not go to bed angry but instead hug, kiss, and tell each other that you love each other.
It's a wonderful personality trait to be able to express yourself on the deepest level with your partner. It's good to be able to tell your partner if you feel afraid or are triggered about something. And it's very important for your partner to then be able to respond, “I'm sorry you feel that way. What can I do to help you? What can I do to make you feel better?”
There are so many reasons for fights. You may be fighting over money or a feeling of betrayal or be engaged in a power struggle. You might be fighting over something that you believed to be an incredible injustice or a behavior pattern your partner has that makes you feel uncomfortable. But there's rarely anything so urgent in a conflict that it has to be resolved at that moment.
You must understand that everyone has limitations in different aspects of their life. Sometimes you may see your partner's limitations, and they may make you feel so angry that you want to abandon them. At that point you have to remind yourself that you have limitations as well and that your limitations will come out at some point.
So you must show compassion regarding your partner's limitations. When you do so, you are showing compassion to yourself and also serving as a role model for your partner.