Today, our guest blogger broaches a topic we’re very familiar with here: relationship conflict.
By: Vicki Hudson
Recently while sharing a meal with complete strangers at the San Francisco Writers Conference, the conversation wandered away from writing to life in general and relationships. My track record of ten years and counting resulted in a query about how did we get so far in this day and age of plug, play, and discard relationships? Good boundaries was my response and we know when not to be right. There was laughter at the first half and confusion at the second part of my response. What the heck did “know when not to be right” mean? This is important since most people know how to stick to their guns, stand up for themselves if it is really important but how many know when giving up is the better option in inter-personal conflicts? I really believe though that knowing when to concede is the key to sustainable relationship as our culture moves deeper and deeper in the forest of disposable relationships.
The bottom line – be more committed to the relationship than to being right. Fundamental to this concept working is a strong foundation in mutual respect as equals. But let’s get to the good part – conflict resolution. Every relationship has conflict over issues large and small. Squeezing the toothpaste tube in the wrong places gets both of us. The correct location for the squeeze is one of perspective. Is this worth an argument or stuffed feelings of aggravation that slip out when triggered by some other disagreement or perspective on something? And there are hundreds of little day to day issues similar to the toothpaste tube that exist when in a relationship. The solution? If the premise is one of mutual respect then both players in this game of life long relationship have a valid claim on being right. If this assertion is accepted then the solution must support both. Easy. Get two tubes of toothpaste. If only one half of the equation cares about the squeeze, then give in if on the other side. Is the toothpaste tube more important than the relationship? No brainer.
The key is recognizing when being right does not matter in the big picture. The internal conversation would go something like this:
“No really, I’m right.”
“And that is important why?”
Ahhh, the if/then point of the diagram.
If “why” has anything to do with “because I deserve to be right, or want to be right, or am so invested in my own sense of self worth I can’t ever be wrong” then sinking teeth into the argument until you win is more about you then about what is best for the relationship and by default is good reason to NOT win the fight.
If “why” has its foundation along the lines of “this is what I fundamentally believe is the best choice for our family, or future, or child or life” then by default is good reason to WIN the fight.
Recognize the difference! Internal, all about me verses external all about us.
Okay, so occasionally both sides are on the higher ground. What happens then? Love wins out. The internal conversation is something like this:
“I really want this.”
“Yeah, but do I really need to win this one?”
“But I’m right.”
“Am I so right that I can’t let her/him be right this time instead? Can I live with not being right? Will more harm come from my winning this fight than from giving in?”
Love is able to back down. This is best accompanied by dialogue with one’s partner that explores what the focal important aspect of “being right” is about. Sometimes, just by getting to the emotion beneath the energy pushing one towards pursuit of “winning” the fight, the conflict resolution can be found. Again, this assumes respect between equals who are able to hear, not just listen but really hear what the other says even when tensions are high. This works because even when furious, language is held in check. That which would be instantly regretted is not ever allowed beyond the brain let alone out from the mouth. Violence either physical, emotional, or verbal is never perpetrated. Walking away when needed is respected and asked for when called for. Time to settle hurt or confused feelings is taken, enough to get to saying “that hurt my feelings, this is why…”
Laughter is also important. Locked in conflict yet feel the urge to laugh? Likely that is part of your consciousness telling you that whatever the subject of the fight, it is clearly not worth fighting about because some part of you is finding the process ludicrous. Listen to that.
Finally, occasionally both are locked in the “absolutely right” paradigm. There is a solution but it is a nuclear option best used only rarely of it loses its effectiveness if abused.
Simply, state what you need. “I have to win this one. I have to be right. I have to have this fill in the blank because…” This is the nuclear option in my family because when this card is thrown, all discussion ends. The conflict is over. I give if on the receiving end, I win if my card to throw. No grudge held, no secret seething. It’s done and we move on.
If X then Y. If not more important than the relationship, then do I really need to win? No, I don’t always need to win or always need to be right. If both partners subscribe to this paradigm that includes permission to let go of being right, then conflicts when they do occur will not fester but will be dealt with and resolvable to mutual and balanced satisfaction. Both will get their way some of the time. No one will win all of the time. And when it really double dog down matters, you win. Because I love you is more powerful than I’m right.
A Few Words About the Author
Victoria A. Hudson writes essay and poetry. She occasionally journeys into short story and longer fiction, while pursuing the vocation to create capturing narrative nonfiction. She writes flash for the fun and challenge it provides. Distractions from writing generally involve playing in the dirt, creating culinary concoctions with what came out of the dirt, feral cat control and constant catching up with literary, news, science, geographic, and other such periodicals that arrive in the mail. Her blog Home and Hearth is found at www.throwrockpaperscissors.blogspot.com. Cooking, literary and parenting musings tweet @vickigeist and writing updates @vicki_hudson. She sponsors an emerging writer’s scholarship at the San Francisco Writers Conference annually. Recent credits include inclusion in FLASHBACK 2010 and Powder – Writing by Women in the Ranks, from Vietnam to Iraq.