When two people start to build a life together then conflict is unavoidable. Unless you are clones and even then I predict conflict will appear.
Why is it inevitable?
Because you are different. You have unique sets of life experiences, preferences, tastes, beliefs, values, opinions and characters. Chances are that you were first attracted to a combination of your similarities and your differences.
Where you are similar you sense safety, trust, ease and an idea that your partner ‘knows’ you. Where you are different is the place attraction and passion appears in the things that fascinate you and inspire you. You want to learn more about the differences and settle in the similarities.
In the places we differ there is room for disagreement over direction, decisions, tastes and maybe even values. Conflict represents a chance to learn more about each other and to combine two different perspectives to build a better answer. There is an IF though and it is big one. The advantages of conflict can only be experienced IF you have some skill to handle the conflict in a productive and connected way.
Three Conflict Positions
In simple terms, there are broadly three ways to approach conflict:
Avoidant – for the sake of ease and safety this approach is to avoid dealing with the differences either by withdrawing or by giving in. This gives the illusion of peace and harmony but results in the avoidant side not contributing to the resolution.
Fighting – for the sake of getting my voice heard and acted on, this approach deals with difference by asserting my side with little openness to the other. This is a use of power through physical presence, loud voice and possible threats of punishment – physical or emotional.
Collaborative – for the sake of getting a result that satisfies both sides. A partial satisfaction would be a compromise whilst with skill, positive intention and patience it is also possible to reach an ideal solution that fully satisfies both parties.
The chances are that you use all three styles to varying degrees depending on the situation and the other person. It is also likely that you have a dominant style that you use with your partner.
Which is your dominant style? And which is your partner’s? What are the consequences of your style combination?
Avoidant – Avoidant: You probably believe you have a great relationship where you can proudly say ‘we never fight’. The reality is that neither of you face the challenges that come up between you because you aim for peace at all costs. You are missing an opportunity to get closer and understand each other more deeply. You also probably have a hard time making big decisions.
Learn to: create a safe space where you can both speak up and listen to each other. Take your time to build trust that it is ok to disagree and to have differences. Not only ok, but a source of inspiration and pleasure.
Avoidant – Fighting: The one of you that fights usually gets their way and apparently has the agreement of their partner. In reality, their dominant style causes the other to shut up and keep their true thoughts and feelings hidden. While the avoidant partner rarely speaks up so has no real voice in the relationship.
Learn to: the dominant partner needs to lower their voice and ask the opinion of the other without reacting. The avoidant partner needs to push their comfort zone and learn to speak up.
Collaborative: Wants to get the avoidant engaged in the dialogue and wants to get the fighter to slow down and listen. This is the ideal place to be and if you can both get there then you will experience the wonder of speaking up, listening and working together to craft a resolution.
What are your learning edges as a couple?