My first mentor told me, “Conflict is a necessary part of intimacy.”
I didn’t want to hear that. I hated conflict, but his words rang true. I knew I wasn’t good at conflict management, and because of that, many of my relationships did not thrive. That was 30 years ago and since then, I have spent zillions of hours learning how to handle conflict productively.
I have had the pleasure of being in a handful of relationships where everyone managed conflict well. I felt more present, more empowered, more loved, more loving and more creative, and so did the other person. There was more bonding, more trust, more comfort and more confidence. Those relationships became a garden in which many flowers blossomed. It takes work and courage to face conflicts, but it is well worth it.
I would like to share a few things I’ve learned with you.
12 Keys to ConflictManagement
1) I remind myself about the consequences of poor conflict management. I keep these things in mind, and that motivates me to handle conflicts early and wisely, instead of letting the pain pile up. If I don’t handle the conflict early, stress increases and my body aches. Personal and business relationships suffer. I remember romances that died a slow death in which we gradually stopped caring and went numb. Other times the conflict really hurt and a relationship ended in a fiery blast. I watch the impact of unresolved conflict in my client’s lives. Some have lost a job or not received a promotion. Marriages have ended, or couples have stayed together only for the sake of the children. Friendships have remained intact, but superficial because people feared rocking the boat. Family members have become estranged, or worse, they have become violent. Sometimes people turned anger inward against themselves and that resulted in depression, cutting or suicidal tendencies. Conflict handled poorly really hurts.
2) Conflict is not a bad thing. When I was young, I thought that conflict meant there was something wrong in a relationship. It does not mean that at all. When handled well, conflict is iron sharpening iron. Both people grow because of it, and so does the relationship. That attitude helped me a lot.
3) I discipline myself to take responsibility for my own thoughts and emotions instead of blaming others. That is not always easy to do, and sometimes it takes me a few minutes or a few hours to realize that I am blaming. When I become aware of it, I switch and take responsibility.
4) I tell myself it’s OK not to be perfect. Although I have studied the topic of conflict management for 3 decades, I am not perfect. That is OK. I have made tons of mistakes and I learned from them all. I am in the game and that is how I develop mastery!
5) I apologize when I blame another person unjustly, or when I say an unkind word. I have learned how much words can hurt. I have learned what it is to be humble and swallow my pride.
6) I ask for forgiveness. I listen to see if forgiveness is granted. I work to restore true relationship so our hearts open again. I forgive others, and remember to see their Heart. Forgiveness is a daily practice.
7) I feel the fear and do it any way. I do not like to confront people if I think it will ruffle feathers. I don’t want to feel uncomfortable, and I don’t want others to feel anxious. But I remember that wisdom calls for confrontation in a tactful way or else the relationship will die a slow death. I dig down deep and find the courage to say the “tough love” things I need to say. Instead of backing down to avoid conflict, I remember that real intimacy requires me to stay engaged. I listen to my promptings from God and my wise inner self.
8 ) I look inside to see if I am projecting unhealed emotional pain onto another person. Sometimes I do not think I am, but later I discover that I was. I apologize. I sincerely want to learn about myself and to heal so I can have healthy relationships. I want to be pure.
9) I ask God for insight. I ask to be bathed in God’s love. It helps to reduce the stress level so the emotionally reactive part of my brain can settle down and the clear-thinking part can step up to bat. I take a nap, listen to soothing music, take a bath, go for a walk, talk to a trusted advisor or sleep on it. Sometimes I receive a dream, or when I awaken in the morning and talk with God, I am shown a new perspective. I ask God to help me build a stronger intimate with the Great Mystery so that I do not depend on people entirely for my fulfillment. I do this as soon as I remember to do it.
10) I empathize. I walk a mile in the other person’s shoes. I look below the surface into a person’s heart. I see their wounding, or their concern, or their longing, and I extend my compassion while maintaining appropriate boundaries for self-care.
11) I ask people close to me if they will agree to a “no with-holds policy.” (I do not recommend this in an abusive relationship.) A with-hold is when we are not willing to disclose significant information, or our true feelings, because we fear the other person’s reaction. When we with-hold, we are not in integrity with ourselves or with our relationships. A with-hold can be a lie by omission, a white lie, or a lie by commission. We manage other’s impressions and let them see only what we want them to see. With-holds allow us to avoid dealing with our own wounded feelings. That keeps us in a state of self-deception and self-rejection. Eventually that will get out-pictured in our world. Others may abandon us (at home or work), but it is we who abandoned ourselves first. Others may criticize us, but it stings because we have criticized ourselves first. We may not realize this dynamic. Instead we project onto another. We blame, persecute or feel like a victim, and that creates more pain. When we make a no with-hold policy, we commit to engage consciously in God’s healing process, and we support our loved ones in their healing process. We commit to doing our part to fully show up, and receive love from God so we can all be restored to our birthright. Then we can fully express our unique gifts, love and creativity.
12) I ask people, “What can I do to support you right now? What is the unhealed wound or the unmet need?” If I feel it is wise, I will make an agreement with them to meet their unmet need, and behave in such a way that is transformational for them. Sometimes, God’s love flows through my gift of empathy and wisdom, and it heals an entire life pattern. Simultaneously, I am returned to wholeness through God’s grace.
When we master conflict management skills, our families become safe places to fully love and be loved, and our organizations thrive with vitality and creativity. We reduce the violence on the planet, and diminish the anxiety and depression within ourselves and all around us.
Benita A. Esposito, MA is a licensed professional counselor and life coach who works with S.M.A.R.T. women and the men who love them. Benita co-hosted the show “Your Authentic Life” on Radio Sandy Springs (http://www.radiosandysprings.com), and was featured for her work with women and sexuality on CNN.
Specialties include (1) relationships (2) body-mind-spirit healing, (3) transforming limiting blocks and (4) success skills.
To schedule a confidential counseling session for Marriage Counseling, Couples Counseling or Individual Counseling session, please use the “Contact Form” on this site. I use Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy and Gottman Method Couples Therapy.
Author: Benita A. Esposito, MA, Licensed Professional Counselor
The Esposito Institute, Inc.
2 Offices: Atlanta (Sandy Springs) and Blairsville, GA
Psychotherapy Website: www.Flourishing-Lives.com
Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
“Conflict is a necessary part of intimacy. Resolve it when it first arises.”
~ Benita A. Esposito, MA, LPC