I’m going to be really honest here. I HATE conflict. I hate when I’m mad at someone or they are mad at me. It was ingrained in me from a very young age that fighting is bad. My parents were divorced when I was 10 months old, so I don’t ever remember them together, but as a child I could feel the anger and hatred between them. There’s validation from both sides, but I interpreted it as fighting = bad. Even as I aged, they became more and more distrustful and hateful towards each other and both agreed not to be a part of each other’s life. They have both moved on into healthier relationships with other partners because there were differences and hurtful actions where it created irreversible hurt between them.
So, I’ve equated anger and conflict with endings. I haven’t always understood the idea of healthy conflict being a way to grow a relationship or strengthen a bond. I’ve been afraid to express frustrations or discomfort because I feared it would change the relationship in a negative way and ultimately mean the relationship would be over. What I didn’t know, is that keeping anger in, constantly feeling like I was not expressing myself to that other person, I was energetically driving a wedge between us in those moments. That thing that I wanted to avoid most was happening because of my avoidance.
Sometimes, what I really want to say is “stop being such an a-hole!” Because I feel like they’re wrong and I’m right. It’s their job to understand me and damn it, I’m gonna be heard. However, that’s not constructive. It makes the other person defensive, builds walls up and creates more reason for conflict and less reason for resolution. That little girl who just wanted her parents to be nice to each other speaks up in those moments and wants to throw a tantrum. Like the ones where you see kids flailing themselves on the ground at a grocery store because they don’t understand why they’re not getting what they want.
Well, in those moments of conflict, I don’t want endings. I want to be able to find resolution instead of pushing people away, so I integrate these three principles to help bridge that gap in understanding and communication.
1. Whatever feeling I’m feeling is justified.
Joy, Happiness, Anger, Sadness, Frustration - they’re all emotions. Some might feel better than others, but they are all valid. They’re all guiding you to pay attention to something. Also, one person’s feelings don’t have more importance than anyone else's. Validating your feelings or the other person’s doesn’t make one person right and the other wrong. We are all having our own experience in this life, but we learn and grow through connecting with others. Others often show us things we can’t see, or don’t want to see for or in ourselves.
2. Resolution happens in space
You know how sometimes you have the best ideas in the shower? It’s because you’re not focused on any one thing. My mind is usually clear to wander as I focus on taking care of my physical body. Conflict resolution can happen the same way. It’s important to give both people space to express what they need without holding onto feelings that come up and then give both of you space to breathe and reconnect. Sometimes that space can be minutes, sometimes days, sometimes longer depending on the severity of the emotions. Keeping in mind the goal of connection, that space can be as long as it needs to be - just know it’s ok to be the vulnerable one and reach out first (not to push your agenda, but to let the other person know you’re ready to let them back in).
3. The goal is connection, even if there’s temporary disconnection.
If you’re fighting it’s often because you really do want there to be a seamless connection. You are feeling love with the other person, but frustration at the same time because that love isn’t flowing. This is regardless of the type of love - romantic, platonic, familial, etc. If you keep this in mind it allows you to share your feelings from a place of curiosity instead of blame. It’s not the other person’s ‘fault’ you’re feeling how you’re feeling, it’s your reaction. So, if it’s your reaction, it’s your responsibility to feel different, not their responsibility to make your feelings change.
With that in mind, you can you ask them questions to better understand their actions and learn more about your own reaction. You can change your reaction, you can’t change their action. Connection is never about changing the other person, but about accepting them as they are. You can’t accept someone as is until you understand your own experience with them. Asking questions from a place of curiosity - non-attachment to the answer - will give you the ability to really hear what the other person needs to share and respond in love instead of reacting in frustration.
The worst way to think about conflict in personal relationships is a power struggle. A relationship fosters an energy exchange between people, so if you have to be right and the other person has to be wrong, it’s an uneven exchange and that’s what leads to endings. However, if you hold both people and their feelings as true, you’re creating a dynamic where you can come together and experience more power, growth, love, and connection between you both. Conflict is uncomfortable, but it doesn’t have to be mean, messy, or destructive. Healthy conflict can lead to expansion, new engagement, and overall deeper connection.
Has this helped you understand conflict in a new way? How do you handle conflict?
When has conflict not ended in resolution for you? What was missing in that experience?