Healthy Conflict – alive magazine

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This discussion is aimed at a specific audience ConflictStrong argumentation or prolonged disagreement is defined by the dictionary as conflict. Healthy conflict is when all parties feel heard, are safe and the boundaries are respected.

Why are we arguing about?

Tension, misunderstanding, or conflict can surface without us understanding why it’s happening, or how to address it.

Consider the details before you make a decision:

·         the catalyst or trigger for the conflict

·         the specific subject matter

·         the degree to which this is a familiar issue

·         the stakes involved, including the importance of this relationship

·         how well-resourced you are right now

What does healthy conflict look and feel like?

In some relationships, disagreements are swept under the rug if at all possible. On the other end of this continuum, there are relationships where tempers flare up and harsh words can be exchanged.

It is also possible to engage in conflict in a healthy way—with self-responsibility, boundaries, and curiosity. This means that the focus is more on exploration and collaboration than avoidance or combat. Knowing what healthy conflict looks and feels like can make a huge difference in your relationships.

What if they hear us?

Our kids are very observant. They pick up on words, body language and behaviour. You can’t hide simmering conflict. They might not know what is going on, but they will know that something is happening. This can be distressing for young children, especially if adults insist that everything is fine.

Consider the following general guidelines when you are talking to your children.

1.      Acknowledge that there is some disagreement or frustration, because it’s likely they’ve picked up on it.

2.      Explain that everything will be fine and that you will deal with the issue privately.

3.      Tell them that they can check in or ask questions if they are feeling uneasy.

This allows kids to believe what they see, rather than dismiss it. It establishes clear boundaries about what they can be a part of and what is private. It keeps the lines open for them to communicate and soothe themselves when they need it. Then it’s down to you to address the conflict as well as possible, knowing that the stakes are higher when you have little ones watching and learning.

Time out!

Unless there is clear urgency, it’s usually possible to choose the time, place, and limits for engaging in healthy conflict. This means being emotionally mature enough to hold your frustrations or impatience until you can organize a scenario that works. If neither party is willing to engage, chances of a positive outcome and clarity are reduced.

When you’re in the middle of conflict, one or both parties may realize they’re too unsettled or reactive to be responsible. A timeout can be useful, as long as both parties are clear about when the engagement will resume. It’s advisable to suggest a specific amount of time (say 30 minutes, or 2 hours) or a possible resume time (say after dinner, or tomorrow morning.)

Waiting can be tough; however, it’s worth it if it enables you to be more focused, responsible, and respectful when you resume.

Practice makes perfect

Begin by taking some breath and identify a starting point; for example: “Can we talk for a few minutes? I’m feeling tense and would like to clear the air about what happened at dinner. I’m thinking we missed each other and wonder if it was the same for you.” Before going any further, pause and listen for a response.

To develop resilience and faith, it is important to practice healthy conflict, including both successes and failures. A positive outcome can be a mutual agreement to disagree or a celebration of progress.

Consider practising with someone—a learning lab where you’re committed to retaining a sense of humour, with a debrief at the end. You can ease the pressure by choosing a topic that is not as important, like what movie to watch or a place to walk.

The bottom line

We don’t always agree with each other. We sometimes misunderstand one another. It is worth the effort in most relationships to resolve these situations. We can do this in a healthy manner. This has the fascinating side benefit of releasing a lot of energy that was previously contained, resulting in more passion, creativity, and stronger relationship!

Is my relationship different from yours?

Every person is different in their context, and their personality. Sexual orientation, gender and lived experience are all part of the context.

While generalizations are possible, it is more humanistic to look at each person as an individual. We are thus personalized rather than objectified.

This gives us more time to explore who we are and how we can work with conflict in a positive manner.

Toolbox for healthy conflict

Prepare yourself for a healthy conflict by following these tips.

·         Identify a real or imagined conflict.

·         Bring to mind the person, setting, and stakes.

·         Breathe consciously and regularly to minimize reactivity.

·         Reflect on your intention: To understand? To punish? To connect?

·         Recognize why this matters to you.

·         Reflect on your own context and possible blind spots.

Playful conflict

Playfully compete with your kids, using lots of vocalization and drama. Include your kids! This can be a great way to practice healthy conflict. You can try many different activities.

·         card games

·         thumb or leg wrestling

·         board games

·         charades

This article originally appeared in the February 2024 edition of alive magazine.

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