Relationships of all types require immense nurturing to foster healthy connection and communication. I have often heard from clients in my private practice how people want to spend their time with people that enhance their lives; that there is this sense of mutual give and take in the relationship.
See, we all love to experience feeling good in relationships. But what about when there is conflict? We have relational issues in every aspect of our life whether family, business, church, or friendships. Some people attract high conflict situations and others are more conflict avoidant by nature.
Many people assume that when there is conflict, it means there has to be a fight. This may be the case for individuals who were raised around unfair fighting practices and/or endured parental substance abuse, physical or sexual abuse, and domestic violence. These kinds of family issues often leave children growing up into adults with little knowledge of healthy closure.
Handling conflict well is a testament to a strong thriving relationship because there is enough trust built up in the relationship to repair the rupture well. Ruptures come in a few different forms. Some ruptures can be toxic resulting from compounded hurt in the relationship that is damaging to the trust and safety of the relationship. What makes ruptures more toxic is when individuals do not take the time to repair.
As Neuropsychiatrist Dr. Dan Siegel has stated in his work based in attachment and interpersonal neurobiology, “Repair is more important than attunement.” Repairing relationships is a key sign of healthy maturity and that you are a secure connector. When you repair with individuals you are saying,” I am invested in this relationship, and I want to take responsibility for my part and find resolve."
The question you often have to evaluate in repairing hurts is: to what extent are you invested in this relationship? If you are invested, then you need to take the risk to repair. Sometimes repairing conflict feels really vulnerable. To repair well with someone can be one of the most vulnerable things you can relationally do because you are open and available to hearing how you hurt someone or you are sharing how you were hurt. Both call for being emotionally brave.
If you have decided to repair with someone that you are invested in, then consider the following:
Take the time to self soothe and process what you are feeling before you attempt repair. You need to be in the right frame of mind before talking about being hurt. A fruitful conversation is one where you take responsibility for your part, and you really listen.
Healthy repair requires active listening. In fact, reducing your words and taking more time to listen will offer a better outcome than a long lecture.
Find clarity on what your unmet need is in this conflict and then communicate it. You often have to dig below the surface. It might not be about the original conflict, but rather that you felt rejected or disrespected or embarrassed.
Avoid character assassination of the person you have conflict with. Stick with the facts and how it made you feel. Character defaming only fosters more defensiveness and contempt in the relationship.
Disarm Your Communication: Disarming doesn’t mean you have to agree entirely with what the person is saying. The result is the person who was bringing up the issue feels caught off guard because you see his point. For example, your co-worker brings up that you were late sending off a report which affected his ability to present at the meeting. You would genuinely reply, “You’re right. I was late sending it to you, and I can see it has put you in a bind.”
Avoid Distraction Statements: These are statements that take conversation off task. People often distract from the real problem as a way to manipulate or reduce anxiety. It can also be a defense mechanism because you do not want to address a difficult subject. Distraction statements have the capacity to dig up old hurts, and you can avoid the landmines by ignoring them and sticking to the facts in the conversation.
Stay open to other solutions: Once you acknowledge how you were hurt and listen to the other individual, be open to collaborating on how to solve the problem.
Be willing to compromise: It has been said that true compromise leaves both parties feeling a little uncomfortable. Compromise means you give up on something in order to reach a solution that is takes priority. Own your part and take personal responsibility for the role you played in the conflict helps to lower defenses and get to resolution quicker. Genuinely evaluate how you contributed to this situation and what you need to do differently next time.
Dr. Jenna Flowers is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Speaker and Author of The Conscious Parent's Guide to Coparenting: A Mindful Approach to Creating a Collaborative, Positive Parenting Plan. You can connect with Dr. Jenna on Instagram or her Website.