Conflict is an unpleasant partner in life. When we encounter conflict, we seem alarmed as if it is an abnormality. Conflict is not only inevitable; it is necessary. Yikers!
As a Marriage and Family Therapist, my job is about conflict every hour. Conflict with self – trying to muscle out of a depression because one should just be happy – count your blessings, after all. Conflict with family – disastrous experience when family doesn’t get along, fracture and split. Conflict with God – well He has so many do’s and don’ts – seems impossible to make him happy.
I am not an expert on the Middle East. I am not a top paid Mediator. However, I have learned some things.
1. Peace is not only the absence of conflict; it is also the way to move through it.
2. Stay at the table. Stay in conversation. You may need to take a break now and again to clear your head and calm down but stay at the table.
3. The other person isn’t evil. Generally, the other person is trying to tell you something. Find out what that is. It is not about being right. It is about listening and understanding. When you listen put your stuff aside, it’s not going anywhere. I assure you that you wont forget your point (unless it didn’t really need to be made.)
4. Listen. Listen. Listen. Everybody knows to do it but so few of us discipline ourselves to do it. Nothing reduces a disagreement faster than a non anxious reflection of what the other person is trying to communicate to you.
5. Always remember, it is never ever ever helpful to use catastrophic words like “never”, “always”, “ever” or “ever ever”. (See what I did there – a little humor). “Often” is a good term to use. “Sometimes”, works. “It feels like this thing happens a lot.” “This happens enough that I need to address it.”
6. If you need help, ask for it. Please. One of the great tragedies of my job is that I often don’t get couples until it is way too late. My heart sinks when I hear these words, “I’ve told him/her for 20 years that we needed help. I’m done. I don’t know if I even want help now. ”
Therapy DOES NOT mean you are mentally ill. It means that you have the clarity that you need some assistance. We call the tow truck when you can’t get your car to move. Relationships are a lot harder and more challenging than a car that doesn’t move. There are things outside of our skill set. Ask for help.
Marriage and family therapist have chosen to invest a great deal of time, money and heart to help folks in relationships. Relationships don’t come easy. We aren’t naturally equipped to do them properly or we wouldn’t have the Middle East. If relationships were easy, this world would be a different place. If relationships were easy, there would be no Selma, no Ferguson, no Tikrit, no Isis.
Conflict is what it is. It is inevitable. There are ways to move productively through. There are people to help.