For most people, interpersonal conflict is the most significant source of stress, with the other contender being financial stress. Conflict can arise in any relationship for many different reasons. It can occur because of differing expectations, conflicting goals, or simple misunderstandings. Whatever the cause, conflict is often distressing and adds to your problems. People typically cite stress as their primary trigger for cravings. The better you can resolve disputes, the less stress you will have in your life and, we hope, fewer cravings. However, most of us are never taught how to resolve conflict. Some conflicts will require mediation or family therapy to resolve, but most can be managed on your own if you keep the following tips in mind.
Acknowledge There’s a Problem
Some people don’t mind conflict, and others even thrive on it. However, most people don’t like it and would rather avoid it, even to their detriment. They might go so far as to pretend there’s no problem at all. However, pretending doesn’t make the problem go away. Just as someone with agoraphobia severely limits themselves by not leaving the house, you severely limit yourself by avoiding conflict at all costs. The first thing, then, is to acknowledge there’s a problem and objectively consider if you would be better off trying to resolve it.
Don’t Discuss it While Angry
While anger can be motivating in certain circumstances, it tends to intensify conflict rather than resolve it. If a dispute arises, give yourself time to cool down before you discuss it. Anything you say while angry may only make matters worse. You never forfeit your right to tell someone off, and you can always do it tomorrow after you’ve thought it over. If you don’t have that kind of time, at least pause and take a few deep breaths. Remind yourself that you don’t want to say or do anything you can’t take back. When you’re feeling calmer, you can begin discussing the issue.
Remember What’s Important
When trying to resolve a conflict, keep the big picture in mind. Often, we are penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to arguments. We get fixated on some small benefit or even just being right, and we lose something of greater value. For example, family members often alienate each other over politics when neither side gains anything from being correct but loses everything over continued conflict.
The first significant step toward actually resolving any sort of conflict is to be willing to listen. It can be challenging to put aside your own desires and opinions for a few minutes and listen to what the other person has to say, but it’s essential. Listening is a skill in itself, but it starts with giving your full attention. When they’re finished talking, reflect back what you just heard. Use phrases like, “So what it sounds like you’re telling me is–” and try to characterize their statements as accurately as possible. This, in itself, is a powerful way to resolve conflict because you will often discover that you’re not actually dealing with conflict but a misunderstanding. If there is a legitimate conflict, at least you will be starting with an accurate understanding of each other’s position.
Avoid Placing Blame
Most conflict doesn’t arise from any sort of malicious motive. You may have heard the expression, “Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity.” Perhaps stupidity is often too strong a word for ordinary conflicts, and “misunderstanding” would be more appropriate. Furthermore, disputes often arise because two people just want mutually exclusive things. There isn’t a bad guy as the needs and wants of neither is more legitimate than the other. It’s important to acknowledge that what the other person wants is reasonable and not make matters harder by attributing to them either malice or stupidity.
Identify the Underlying Issues
The next step is to identify the underlying issues when you’re able to approach the conflict with a reasonably calm and fair mind. We often think we know what an argument is about, even though it’s about something else entirely or perhaps even several different things. For example, say a married couple is arguing because the wife asks the husband to pick up the kids at school, and he says he can’t. The underlying issue for her might be that she believes he expects her to do everything and doesn’t respect her time. The underlying problem for him might be that he’s made a prior commitment and doesn’t want to fail in his obligation. When you’ve identified what the real underlying problems are, you can begin to work on solutions.
Find Areas of Agreement
For more intense arguments, it’s good to start by looking for agreement, however small. You both want the kids to get picked up from school. You both want the other to feel appreciated, and so on. This partly goes back to remembering what’s important. In many relationships, you want to remember that you’re really on the same side and dealing with an issue of how to cooperate. It’s much easier to solve problems as teammates rather than as adversaries.
Come Up With Solutions
When you understand the underlying problems as well as the areas you both agree about, you can start working toward a solution. In the example above, perhaps there’s some way the husband can meet his obligation and pick up the kids. Maybe the wife can pick up the kids, and he can take something else off her plate. Often, the willingness to compromise is just as important as any particular solution you come up with.
Be Willing to Forgive
Finally, be willing to forgive the other person following the conflict. Don’t agree to a solution, then go around feeling resentful for the next six months because you didn’t get your way. Being willing to forgive is better for your mental and physical health, and it’s better for your relationship.
At Enlightened Solutions, we understand that recovery from addiction is about far more than quitting drugs and alcohol–it’s about living a happier, more fulfilling life. Being better able to communicate and resolve conflict improves your relationships and makes you happier. That’s why we put special emphasis on family and relationships. To learn more about our approach to addiction treatment, contact us today.