The Gift of Conflict


As Americans, we generally view conflict as being a negative experience, often with the end-goal being the defeat of our opponent. Whether that be in the form of relational or organizational dynamics, conflict tends to make us uncomfortable. We may attempt to avoid dealing with the problem altogether, or we attempt to defeat the other person. Our overall view of conflict in relationships in the United States is with seemingly no positive purpose.

What if we challenged that point of view? In the context of relationships, conflict can be a gift—an opportunity to find mutual understanding with our partner. Conflict can give us a chance to not only learn to live with an issue in the relationship, but to learn to like the differences we have with our partner. Perhaps by working through the conflict, it can bring us closer to our loved one.

The problem with conflict is that, not infrequently, it causes pain. We may connect conflict to shame and inferiority in our relationship. It has been said that nothing changes until the pain of staying the same becomes more painful than the pain of change. Conflict can motivate us to move forward and make changes for the better. It can propel us in a direction that can push us toward resolving issues with the ultimate goal of mutual understanding with our partners.

Conflict can be the force to move us toward resolving negative relationship patterns that can be counterproductive and harmful to the overall health of the relationship. When we continue the cycle of rehashing old arguments, conflict can leave a bad taste in our mouth causing us to dread future conflict. Having a positive view of conflict can push us to use greater communication skills, use of better strategies by implementing conflict management skills and have better outcomes over all.

Conflict works against inertia. Sometimes we stall in relationships. It may be that we feel it is too much work to resolve the issue. Perhaps we are tired of dealing with the issue with no solution in sight, or we prefer to avoid the discomfort of attempting to talk to our partners. Like stagnant water which can become an environmental hazard, stagnation in relationships can also be hazardous. Nothing gets resolved, resentment becomes entrenched and emotional distance grows further.

In the workplace, when we work to resolve a conflict it expands our creativity limits. The potential of conflict is innovation. When we are forced into a corner where it seems there are no other options, we learn to become more innovative in our idea development, our conflict resolution skills and in our over-all relationship dynamics. Conflict management pushes us to have better results. Mediocrity in relationships and organizations undermines our potential and holds us back from having greater happiness and fulfillment. Avoiding conflict keeps us from reaching our potential, creating more disconnect from ourselves and others.

When dealing with conflict, we may feel inadequately prepared to do so, or that we are incapable of knowing how. Feeling confident in our approach, with a desire to truly listen to the point of view of our loved one can bring more positive feelings in helping us believe we can solve the problem. Keeping the value of our relationship at the center, we can gain confidence in our ability to resolve conflicts, look forward to establishing a closer bond and confidence in ourselves that we can resolve long-term problems.

Tammy Ellis, LCSW

Tammy specializes in working compassionately with individuals who experience out of control sexual behavior, addiction, LGBT+ related issues, paraphilias, fetishes, and unconventional relationships. She also works with people experiencing crises of faith, faith transitions, mixed-faith and mixed-orientation marriages, and anxiety. She offers both therapy and coaching services to individuals through online settings.

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