Imagine a life without conflict.
Sounds great doesn’t it? But we all know that’s not possible because conflict is inevitable. Depending on a variety of factors (the nature of the problem, our mood, our relationship with the other person, or the time of day), we handle conflict in different ways. Below is a continuum to show the range of ways people may react to conflict:
(avoids) (communicates effectively) (attacks)
Conflict in families can be especially stressful because we are so invested in these relationships. We care what our loved ones think and feel, and so when hurtful words or actions are exchanged it is very distressing to both parties.
According to Attachment Theory (Bowlby), conflict is considered an opportunity for growth in relationships. Most of us tend to view conflict negatively; but what if we were to look at it as a challenge and as a way to communicate our needs to others? Conflicts arise because we may have unmet needs in our relationships. For example, instead of saying I need some ‘me’ time, I yell at my husband and kids for not doing enough around the house. Or, I avoid my partner by burying myself in my work.
Below are a few things for you to think about:
1. Identify your behaviour during a conflict: aggressive, passive-aggressive or passive.
2. Step back and don’t respond immediately. By taking a step back, our anger has time to subside and we give ourselves time to think before we speak.
3. Find a calm time and space when both parties can attend to the conversation without distractions.
4. Verbal and non-verbal communication is key to successful problem-solving. What we say is just as important as how we say it. Use eye-contact, position your body so you are facing the other party, and listen attentively (that means put your phone away!). Try to understand the other person’s perspective by putting yourself in their shoes. Wait for your turn to speak and don’t interrupt. When it is your turn, speak assertively. Look the person in the eye, sit up straight, use a calm voice and tone and be honest. “I messages” are an effective way to get your point across. For instance, “I felt angry when you didn’t do the dishes.” “I need some down time when I come home from work.”
5. Don’t play the blame game because that just makes people defensive. Express how you feel and what you need.
Let’s change the way we view conflict. When we change the way we look at something, we will react differently. Look at conflict as a challenge or as an opportunity for growth in ourselves and in our relationships.
Perminder Hundle, MA, RCC
As a professional counsellor to children, youth, adults, couples, and families, Perminder is passionate about helping people navigate their relationships and family systems. Perminder is very skilled at working with children and adults, helping parents with skills on better parenting or working on their own relationships, working with anxiety and depression, and helping navigate cross-cultural issues for individuals, couples, and families. For communication with the author, please direct your correspondence here: firstname.lastname@example.org