Good Conflict Can Change Everything


Good Conflict Can Change Everything

By Nancy Rosenberg March 1, 2024 03.01.2024 Share:
Conflict Counseling Couples Relationships Therapy

In long-term relationships, conflict is inevitable. If two red-blooded individuals are dedicated to staying together and navigating issues as they occur, then conflict will at some point arise. The key is in recognizing that, at its essence, conflict is an exchange of information. Problems arise when this exchange of information goes awry when people get critical, defensive, judgmental, panicked, or in some other way feel that their security or safety is threatened.

Adar Cohen is a master of navigating conflict. He has a Ph.D. in conflict resolution and he has worked with individuals and institutions to help solve problems that feel stuck and intractable. According to Cohen, there are three steps you can use to change the tone and tenor of any conversation.

Move toward the conflict.

Don’t be afraid of the conversation. If an important issue has not been addressed out of fear that the conversation will burn out of control, or if there has been an attempt to have the conversation before but it went badly, then it is understandable that a person would try to avoid the issue moving forward. But unaddressed problems that have been swept under the rug will fester. They don’t go away; they bubble and boil beneath the surface, eventually tainting every other conversation or interaction. The unspoken conversation that needs to be had will contaminate the relationship as resentment and disconnection build.

Adopt the position that you don’t know anything.

Even if you think you do, pretend that you don’t. Set aside what you think the other person is thinking or feeling. Approach the conversation with the mindset that you know nothing. Resist the temptation to make assumptions, or to try to formulate your response while the other is still speaking. Silence your mind so that you can hear the other.

Keep quiet.

Allow spaces in the conversation. After the other has spoken, don’t rush to respond. In the pause, reflect on what has been said. Consider the emotions and feelings beneath the surface. If your partner has made a complaint about you, for example, then consider the underlying meaning. Your partner may not be skilled in their presentation. They may use words like “always” or “never,” which in the past may have triggered you to be defensive, or to want to respond and correct details. If your partner says something like “You never help with housework,” when in fact you think you do plenty that they don’t recognize, see if you can hear the feeling beneath the complaint. It may be something like “I don’t feel like you value me” or “I feel overwhelmed.” Now the conversation has shifted, deepened, and softened. How you respond may shift from “I do so, I take out the trash and I did the dishes three days ago” to “I didn’t realize how you felt. What can I do that will help you feel more valued, or less overwhelmed?”

Using Cohen’s strategies can break open a conversation that has become stuck and mired in resentment and recrimination. If the prospect of attempting to change the dynamics of conflict between you and your partner seems daunting, then a skilled couples therapist can help by gently guiding the conversation in a way that avoids landmines and gets to the core issues. Ultimately, conflict can become useful in deepening the care, love, and understanding between you.

To discuss more with Nancy Rosenberg, schedule an appointment today.

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