AW, MAN... DO WE GOTTA?
I hate conflict. I know people (Al) who don't mind conflict at all. In fact, they (Al) kinda enjoy it.
(Honestly I think Al likes to fight with me because he still somehow believes in make-up sex, even though IT'S NEVER HAPPENED, EVER, AROUND HERE.)
(Where do men get these weird ideas, anyway?)
I don't know either. But me? I'd rather chew on a frayed electrical cord than enter into a disagreement with Al or anyone else.
I'm a lover not a fighter.
Neverzeeless, zee conflict? Eet comes. I'm a wife, Mom, close friend, daughter, sister, client, customer, and I fill a million other roles in this life, and I deal with people, sometimes a LOT of people, every day. And when there are people involved, there's bound to be conflict.
But I'm so-o-o-o-o bad at it. Sometimes I get flustered and my heart pounds and I spit out six-line paragraphs of passionate incoherence, and sometimes I clam up or shut down (Ooooo! Adult pouting. Very mature. Very attractive.) But more times than not, I cope with conflict by getting defensive. Know anyone like that? Oh I bet you do!
I'll give you a real life example from a few days ago. Al and I were sitting around after we'd put the kids to bed and I said, "I invited Kelly and Shane over for dinner tomorrow night. Is that okay with you?"
And it wasn't all-the-way okay. Al likes Kelly and Shane. What he doesn't like is that I frequently make plans for both of us without checking with him FIRST.
"Why do you ask me if it's okay, honey? You've already invited them. It's fine if they come eat with us tomorrow night, but it would be nice if you'd ask me BEFORE you make plans."
"Well I only do that because when I do ask you first, you say, Okay whatever you want to do is fine with me. So why do I need to ask you first? You're going to leave it up to me anyway."
"I know I almost always say yes. I'm okay with 99% of the things you want to do, but when you ask me AFTER the plans are made, it feels like a slap in the face."
"Why is that a slap in the face? I don't get it. You always say I'm the social coordinator for our family, so I'm coordinating us socially."
And on and on. It spirals from there and we both end up frustrated and angry, and what did that whole discussion accomplish? Kelly and Shane still came for dinner, and Al was charming and sweet, and we all had a great time, but Al had still been slapped in the face and didn't feel heard and I thought he was being unreasonable and picky and another marital conflict remained unresolved, which, as you probably already know, paves the way for yet another marital conflict in the near future. Nothing changed except we had one more pointless argument on our record. Neither one of us had anything good to show for it individually, and our relationship had taken a blow rather than growing stronger.
Okay? But actually, I lied. That's not how it all went down this time.
Because I've been thinking about conflict lately, and wondering how to manage conflict better myself, and I'd decided prior to this argument ever happened that next time Al and I had a marital "discussion," I was going to do my best to deal with it in a more healthy way. My goal?
LISTEN. LEARN. GROW.
So actually, when Al said, "Why do you ask me if it's okay, honey? You've already invited them. It's fine if they come eat with us tomorrow night, but it would be nice if you'd ask me BEFORE you make plans," I said, "Yes, I do do that a lot, don't I?"
"Yes, you do. And it's a slap in the face to me when you do that."
"I'm sorry. I don't mean for it to be a slap in the face but I can understand how it would be. I am going to do my best to ask you from now on before I make plans for us."
"So you forgive me?"
"Yes, of course."
And you know what? I LOVE that Al walked away from that conversation feeling heard (important, valued, respected). I LOVE that I walked away having learned something I can do to make him happier. I know I've been slapping him in the face, and now I can change my own behavior and stop doing it!
Instead of defending myself, I made myself listen, without interrupting and defending myself, to Al's perspective. I learned how my actions affected my husband (completely disregarding how I thought they should or shouldn't affect him, because WHO CARES? He's him and I'm me!) And now I can grow personally and change that aspect of myself and therefore enhance/strengthen our relationship.
Since then, I've been thinking about how this particular conflict played out and imagining how valuable this new conflict-coping skill I'm learning will improve ALL of my relationships. How listening and learning how my actions affect other people will lead to my own growth. And I've come to this conclusion:
Being defensive about my own faults and mistakes is a lot like exhaling when my body needs to inhale. Admitting I'm wrong -- admitting that I'm not perfect -- feeds and nourishes me in amazing ways by opening me up to growth and forgiveness.
What about you? How are you with conflict? Are you exhaling when you need to inhale?