Do you tend to attack or retreat when in a verbal confrontation? Many of us choose one of these options and ironically, in relationships, each individual often selects the opposite position. We either lash out or shut down when dealing with conflict. Maybe we select the side that we learned from our past experiences or maybe we select the position that best fits our personality. Consider the arguments you have with your partner; do you run towards or away from conflict? Neither position is very effective or produces successful conflict resolution. Polarization typically occurs when parties choose opposite extremes and very little compromise ensues.
As I’ve stated before, all relationships have conflict, but how you handle it determines its effect. Running from conflict prevents resolution and usually causes anger and resentment. Time doesn’t take away conflicts but allows them to fester and grow. That which we resist, persists. In some cases people develop physical problems, turn to addictions, and/or get their needs met elsewhere when they avoid dealing directly with conflicts. On the other side, when people choose to fight, lash out, and attack, they alienate others and destroy trust or connection. Remember anger is a secondary emotion and often those who attack are dealing with fear, hurt, and/or sadness. The bottom line is that staying connected and nurturing intimacy is next to impossible if you are retreating or attacking at times of conflict.
Is there a better way? A good alternative is to express feelings directly and honestly, but in a healthy and constructive way. When we communicate assertively we use “I” instead of “you,” and make sure our tone of voice and our nonverbal behaviors are respectful and kind. We focus on the behaviors instead of the character of the person and once we say it, we let it go. Sometimes people feel compelled to repeat their message over and over again which causes the receiver to ignore their position. Conflict is best dealt with face to face, not through text or email. Be sure not to tell others what they should or shouldn’t feel since we own our emotions and can’t be told what to feel. Lastly, recognize that conflict is a normal part of all relationships, so provide grace, be patient, and work towards compromise. We can all manage conflict if we take responsibility for our own behaviors and stop blaming the other person. Blame prevents change.