Peace is not the absence of conflict; it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.Ronald Reagan
Having lived in Oklahoma for a large portion of my life, I have learned just how important football is to most people. Especially college football. I grew up in Kansas City where professional sports ruled (Go Chiefs!). I like football and can appreciate it, but I’ve always been a baseball fan (Go Royals!). Anyway, having watched it for a long time, I’ve come to understand the basics of the game of football. Rugby is another story. When I saw my first rugby match I was amazed at how little I understood about the game. It just looked like chaos to me! Since then I have given in to my curiosity about the game, which led me to do a little research. I can honestly say that I have a better awareness of the basic rules and objectives of the game. If I were to watch a match today, I can safely say that I would be able to follow along and maybe even enjoy myself.
In much of the same way that I struggled in learning the game of rugby, many people struggle learning the game of relational conflict. All of us have experienced it, but how many of us really understand what’s going on when things get tense between two people? To most of us, conflict represents chaos in our relationships. If often feels out of control and scary. That’s why we work so hard to avoid it at all costs. But what if I told you that it could be understood? What if you could get into a conflict with your spouse and actually be able to notice things happening as they happen? If you can understand the structure of it – the rules and the objectives – it might take some of the mystery out of conflict and make it less chaotic. The ability to do this is what I call “transforming conflict.” All relationships need conflict done well. The goal isn’t to eliminate conflict from your relationship, but to make it more productive rather than destructive. Our fights have the power to do either one of these. They can work to build a relationship, or they can work to destroy a relationship. I like the term “transforming conflict” because it means two distinct things:
- We need to transform what we think about conflict. It’s my goal as a marriage & family therapist to effectively help individuals and couples change their perception of conflict. Most of us see conflict as a dreadful, destructive thing that is to be avoided. Let’s face it, when we see a couple fighting, we don’t say to ourselves, “boy they sure seem to love each other. I wish my spouse and I could have such an intimate relationship!” When we see a couple fighting we are more likely to assume that their relationship is somehow “on the rocks”. But it’s my goal to help people see the hidden benefits of well-done conflict. It’s this perception that conflict is always bad and always destructive that needs to be “transformed”.
- We need to allow conflict to transform us as individuals. I believe that one of the hidden benefits of well-done conflict is it’s transformative nature for the individuals involved. If allowed to do its work, conflict should help each participant to see that there are other ways of perceiving things. It should stretch and push us out of our assumptions and automatic perceptions of things and challenge us to a more nuanced view of issues at hand. Conflict is meant to “transform” us and help us become more mature individuals. Although the process is unpleasant in the beginning, it usually has greater rewards in the long run.
I truly believe that the more a person and couple can learn about the structure of conflict, and about the particular issues involved in their own conflict, the more “under control” their conflict will feel. Just like learning more about a sport that previously looked like chaos. The more you explore it and even participate in it, the more it feels less chaotic and more orderly.
If the conflict in your life proves to be more destructive than productive, then I encourage you to take action by finding a relationship expert to help you transform your life by transforming your conflict.