Conflict is a regular occurrence in human relationships, but it doesn’t have to take hold and derail you from enjoying those relationships.
We all know that the potential for conflict to arise exists in all interactions with other people, especially in close relationships. Resolving a conflict can seem as simple as acknowledging that the people involved are wanting different things and finding a compromise. But that often doesn’t work because of what actually lies below the surface.
Stronger than the wants and needs is the fear each person has that their wants and needs will not get met.
From that space, others look like the enemy against whom we need to defend ourselves. This circular dynamic often continues until someone gives in (i.e. compromises). The problem with this solution is that someone often ends up feeling taken advantage of, which breeds resentment. Though discouraging and dissatisfying, this is a dynamic that endlessly repeats itself in many relationships because it is a familiar habit. But, there is an easy way to break this pattern and replace it with one that feels like a win for everyone involved – and it involves only one task, developing clarity.
By developing clarity, I am referring to gaining a clear vision of purpose in terms of how we want an experience to feel. When we are clear about how we want to feel, we can take steps to create that experience for ourselves in a way that is firm, open-hearted and curious, all at the same time. I find that I get to practice this most often with my children and husband. They are all often far more clear and unabashed about expressing what they want and why. Because of that, they challenge me to tune into my own wants.
They can argue days on end for getting what they want, which in and of itself is not a problem. The conflict arises when I am unclear about what I want to experience. I often waver between what I want to do as individual and what I think I “should do” or “should want to do” as a mother or wife. When I am waging my internal war between these aspects of myself, I wreak havoc in and around me. I say yes when I mean no. I give in, then feel resentful. I feel tired and confused.
What I have found to be reliably true, is that when I get clear about how I want to feel, I am remarkably centered and able to create exactly what I want. It is not that I become rigid in my wants. I just am so clear about what I want and that I CAN have exactly what I want, that I become flexibly grounded – like dune grass waving in the wind. I can give a little here and there, but my roots hold me firmly in place.
For example, I can know on a given day that I want to work on my writing, have some quiet reflection time and do some errands with my kids. It is important to know WHAT I want to do, but even more important to know HOW I want to FEEL when I am doing it. So, I might think about those three things and determine that above all, I want to feel grounded and energized with an easeful flow from one task to the next. Knowing this, I would choose to start my day by meditating, which helps me to feel grounded. Then I would work on my writing earlier in the day because that makes me feel centered and energized. That would leave the afternoon open for running around with my kids. I would also know that I need to allow ample time for each errand, so as not to rush. Rushing does not feel easeful to me.
From this set of parameters, I can listen to my children’s requests and create a schedule that will accommodate their needs and mine. If there is not enough time to complete all the errands with each of them individually in one day, we can look at alternative scenarios. This works because I am clear about how I want to experience my day and I know that I will make that happen for myself. I do not need to fight against my children and their requests for fear that I will give in. If I am clear, I can entertain all sorts of requests and scenarios. I am open and available because I am taking care of me first by tuning into my own clarity of purpose.
Simple? YES! But, not so easy. Despite the fact that I know how incredible it feels to be flexible and operate from a place of centered clarity, I still routinely find myself in conflict with my kids and their wants. This practice of clarity requires presence and awareness of my internal experience. It is dependent upon being aware enough to notice that something doesn’t FEEL right and being aware enough to know that it is time to tune in and figure out what I want. The challenge is that we, as human beings, all have our own ways of going out of presence with ourselves making it difficult to be self-aware.
The way I go out of presence is through my tendency to look outside myself toward others and attend to what they need first. Over the years, I have come to see how that works against me. Taking care of everyone else first may assuage my initial angst about them being unhappy with me: that is to say, that I temporarily get to feel okay because everyone is feeling okay with me. The problem is that if I always look out there at them, trying to take care of them, I end up not having time to take care of myself. It’s simple math. There are more of them than me. When I get stuck in this behavior pattern, I have gone out of presence with myself.
At some point I notice my needs haven’t been met because I have been satisfying other’s need and I start to feel angry and resentful. Conflict ignites. I think it is their fault because they need too much. I make their needs bad and annoying and something to avoid. I think that they need to stop wanting and asking for so much. The payoff is that if it is their fault, I don’t have to take responsibility for being aware of what I want or for satisfying my own needs. Though it feels terrible, again I am temporarily off the hook. It feels like an endless merry-go-roundl when I am lost in it. But, I HAVE found an effective way to pull myself out.
Through lots of practice, I have learned to notice (often daily) when I am feeling tired and resentful because I am doing things I don’t want to do. These are my signals that I am out of presence. As soon as I notice, I stop and ask myself “Are you clear about what you want?” When the answer is “no” I make myself sit down and breathe slowly, in and out, in and out ….until I can identify what I really want to experience. Then I sit some more, letting myself feel into that clarity for a minute or two. When I truly feel completely clear, I get up, re-engage and flow freely throughout the rest of my day. The best part is that I don’t need my kids to do anything. Their wants are no longer a problem. There is no conflict with them because there is no conflict within me.
If you recognize that the tendency toward conflict exists in your close relationships, and know that you don’t want to let conflict weaken these relationships, you can simply choose to dissolve conflict when it arises. When you see conflict lurking there, threatening to take hold, take a moment and get clear about what you really want to experience. From that clarity, re-engage.
If you really, really want to eliminate conflict, start to notice the way(s) that you go out of presence with yourself. Notice patterns of behavior that distract you from feeling the loss of not getting your needs met. Do you binge watch TV, drink alcohol, keep yourself constantly busy, volunteer endlessly, spend hours on social media, read books on how to change your kids/ spouse, etc.?
These and many other habits are ingenious ways our psyches use to distract us from the discomfort of the truth that we are not taking responsibility for creating what we want. When we use these distraction techniques, we get to blame others and escalate to the ultimate level of distraction – CONFLICT. It’s an endless cycle until you choose to break it. Simply put, it all comes back to you. When you get clear and take care of your needs, you dissolve conflict and get to enjoy easeful relationships.
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