6 Steps to Decoding & Navigating Conflict

Relationship ‘how to’ was not taught in school, there was no course credit to obtain…  yet a healthy dynamic in a relationship is essential to our emotional and physical health.

Relationships are complex and very unique. We can’t ‘umbrella statement’ ourselves into a universal mould because each individual comes to the table with an entirely unique set of talents, qualities, issues, patterns, desires and values. However, there are some basic commonalities that we all can relate to and there is a basic recipe that steers us towards healthy and successful unions. Relationship skills are vital to creating healthy relationships that thrive, so cracking the code, even just a tiny bit, poises you to be more masterful and that’s a step in the right direction.

We all need to be seen, understood, comforted and challenged because we are designed to survive.  We are also designed to grow and evolve…
Yes, this does present a dichotomy here… We need safety and we also need growth.  Sometimes these two needs oppose each other. Hence why if our partner challenges us, we may not feel seen, or understood.

Conflicts often can make us feel unseen, unheard and misunderstood. So while we are being presented with an opportunity to grow, we might not feel safe or comforted. Unless we learn the art of conflict! How to understand the gift that conflict can offer us? How can we do conflict in a healthier way? If conflict was a messenger, what is the message we are being asked to tune in to?

(As always, I feel compelled to note that conflict is VERY different from Abuse. If you find yourself in that kind of situation, get support and get out)

I believe the hardest part of conflict though, lies even deeper. It lies in the idea or belief that we created this pain for someone we love, or that someone we love and trust created pain for us. This makes us feel unsafe and when we feel unsafe all kinds of alarm bells go off. Oftentimes we are subconsciously tripped or triggered by unmet, unresolved and often old wounds around safety.  This is where things can get more complicated than they need to be and habits form. It is SO hard to admit that we can cause pain, that we can be wrong or at fault – not as good as we think we are, not as good as others think we are….etc..

It has always been my contention that relationships are meant to stretch us. My relationships have certainly been my biggest teachers. 

Would it surprise you to know that conflict is one of the building blocks for healthy love? Let me rephrase… conflict, done RIGHT… is one of the building blocks for healthy love.

What? There is a right way to do it!? Yup… absolutely. It is a skill to master. If you talk to any happy couple in a looooooooong term union – they will tell you – it was a skill they learned how to do very well and they are happier for it.

Decoding Conflict – What lies under the surface? Why does conflict happen in the first place?

1. What are your beliefs about conflict? Believe it or not, we have a set program around how we view conflict. Some of us believe conflict is supposed to happen and so it does.

2. What is our Temperature set at? Loosely translated….What are you USED to? An environment where there is a lot of tension? Or an environment where there is not? It’s an important distinction to self reflect on.  Depending on which side of the fence you live on will dictate your propensity to create or engage in conflict (consciously or unconsciously). If you are used to tension – that’s where your thermostat would often be set to. If you’re not – you’ll want to repair as soon as possible or avoid conflict altogether. You may think and even believe that conflict is not desirable, yet you’re so used to it from your past and what was modeled to you, that it still feels ‘comfortable’ to you.

3. Let it grow you! Although hard to deal with, conflict is normal and it helps us grow. Conflict shows us the contrast of what we desire, it helps us set healthy boundaries and it shows us patterns that we repeat over and over. Guess what – these are our greatest lessons to learn in life.

4. There is a message in the madness. Conflict can be a great teacher and can build a deeper knowledge and deeper intimacy between you and your partner.  Conflict can teach both of you more about you what you like (and particularly what you don’t like).  It will make you grow and forces you to understand yourself and your partner better.

5. Conflict often simply means that we are not feeling heard, seen or validated and this makes us feel unsafe. We feel misunderstood. It’s so easy to feel as if our partners are not listening to us during a misunderstanding. Everybody has their own perception of every situation. You see the situation one way, but your partner sees the situation in a completely different way, and the funny part is … neither one of you is “wrong”. You and your partner both have your own perception of every situation and you both also believe your perception is correct.

6. Our emotional needs are clashing.  We ALL have our own unique and individual emotional needs and just like food and water will sustain our physical parts, emotional needs will sustain our emotional ones.  Yup logical…makes sense Josephine but what happens when my needs are clashing with my partner’s needs? I get asked this question A LOT because it happens a lot!  “What if I’m needing closeness and my partner happens to be going through a phase where they need some space?”  Yikes! I can hear the alarm bells going off and the rise of the emotional spiral towards…. freak out….right?  It’s normal…first off don’t panic. It is normal to feel some fear when your partner feels like they are pulling away and it is normal to feel some fear when you feel you’re not on the same page together. After all, together feels so good and so yummy, who would want to give that up!

Conflict is inevitable in a relationship, how can we make sure that we reap the benefits of it, come out stronger and understand that conflict has a divine purpose? Because let’s be honest – most of us don’t like conflict. It’s not fun, even if it can be good for you.

So the key to coming out of conflict stronger and better is learning to do conflict well.

A lot to take in… so let’s do this piece by piece, week by week…  These next pieces will serve you towards managing conflict… much more consciously instead of being in ‘reaction mode’ which often feels like you have no control. 

Using this quarantine period as a period of reflection and understanding will be so beneficial for not only the love you have for yourself but the love and potential work needed for your relationship.  Good things WILL come out of this period and my hope is that we all take the time to learn more about our inner working, understanding what brings joy, what triggers us, what we want to improve on. Self awareness is a beautiful gift, to not only give to ourselves and will in turn help our relationships.  It will help us to early identify any potential risks so we can take earlier action and prevent larger issues arising, rather than having to come in with damage control.  As we all know, it takes A LOT more effort to turn a ship once it’s set on a specific course than it is to turn a sailboat around when the winds are working in its favour. My hope for you is simply this… “Don’t give up on Love, just learn to do it better”

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