Conflict is a normal part of any healthy relationship. After all, people are unlikely to agree on everything, all of the time. It is important to learn how to deal with conflict, rather than avoid it. When conflict is mismanaged or when conflict is avoided, it can harm relationships. For instance, keeping your own needs inside in order to avoid conflict leads to distancing in the relationship.
Do you fear conflict or avoid it? Our avoidance of conflict usually stems from our life experience in which at some point in our lives, we had bad or painful memories from previous unhealthy relationships or early childhood. If these situation left you feeling threatened or afraid, you may expect all present-day disagreements to end badly because there is a tendency to think that conflict in relationships is bad, demoralizing, humiliating, dangerous, and something to fear.
If you view conflict as dangerous or feel threatened by conflict, it tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you go into a conflict situation already feeling extremely threatened, it can be extremely difficult to deal with the problem in a healthy way. This is because your flight/fight/freeze stress system gets triggered and the number of responses that you can make are significantly reduced. It’s simple. When we are stressed, we cannot think rationally and calmly. Biologically, this is impossible. Either we are stressed or calm. So, if you are stressed, your choices become to freeze (staring at the other person, wide eyed and blankly, and you are unable to hear anything that is being said), to flee (you leave the room) or fight (blow up in anger/frustration).
Stress interferes with the ability to resolve conflict by limiting your ability to:
- Accurately read the other person’s nonverbal communication (body language, facial expressions)
- Comprehend what someone is really trying to convey
- Be aware of your own feelings and needs
- Communicate your needs clearly
Conflict arises from differences in values, beliefs, motivations, perceptions, ideas, or needs. Sometimes these differences may appear like they are no big deal, but when a conflict triggers strong feelings, typically this is because there is a deep personal need that is being triggered (such as a need to feel loved, a need to feel safe, a need to feel respected, a need for more closeness, a need to feel understood). Sometimes conflict can triggers strong emotions and can lead to hurt feelings, disappointment, and discomfort. When handled in an unhealthy manner, it can cause irreparable rifts, resentments, and break-ups.
When conflict is handled in a respectful and positive way, it provides an opportunity to strengthen relationships. The needs of both parties need to be respected and taken into account because it ultimately contributes to the long-term success of most relationships. When conflict is resolved in a healthy way, it increases our understanding of one another and builds trust.
Call HopeWell Psychological today to learn how to manage the stress response and to learn effective conflict resolution skills. You can reach us by phoning us at 780-298-9401, emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by clicking here.