Managing conflict constructively is quite similar to traveling. After the experience, we become enriched and transformed. After a conflict, managed with openness and awareness, we are no longer the same having gained in our own and others’ knowledge and thereby having grown.
When we travel we abandon for a moment the comfort of our homes and our customs to enter a new world of flavors, colors, sounds, values, and different perspectives. We park our fear of the unknown and explore new horizons and points of view despite the discomfort our minds may feel by not having the usual references to turn to.
We avoid conflict because we associate it with moments of disagreement and of painful and sterile discussions that generate distance and resentment. Frequently the charged part of us that reacts is unconscious, which means that we do not have much knowledge of it, nor how to stop the process. When we run on autopilot our life is reduced to a sum of reactive and repetitive behaviors that make us feel trapped in an endless Groundhog Day.
The first thing we need to do is to look inside ourselves to realize what has been activated within us. Attending to our discomfort with empathy allows us to readjust our point of view. Self-empathy helps us accept our fears and our pain and to establish a dialogue with ourselves and with the other. The more present we are, the more space there will be to consciously choose instead of being swept away by our conditioning. Our awareness will allow us to avoid falling into old habits. Learning how to transform pain and defensiveness is key to establishing an open and respectful dialogue that fosters love and trust despite our differences. This skill can be developed over time with practice.
Within the couple, we tend to reproduce old adaptive mechanisms and defensive patterns learned in childhood. The greater the intimacy between people the more likely it is that regressive reactions will arise.
Couples who cultivate conflict management skills become more aware and respectful of themselves and of each other. They can use conflict as an opportunity for growth, learning to transmute old personal wounds and connecting on a deeper and more intimate level.
Conflict is the beginning of consciousnessEsther Harding
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