Conflict: 9 Reasons it Doesn't Get Resolved

conflict relationships Sep 18, 2018

Whether it be with your children, friends, spouse, wider family, neighbor or workmates, conflict is inevitable.

Being human means that you’re going to cause or get hurt in relationships and this can happen intentionally or unintentionally. But regardless of how it occurs, ‘hurt feelings matter’ and problems arise when these feelings get ‘swept under the carpet’ and ignored.

Conflict is normal and actually very healthy in relationships because it brings issues out into the open to be aired and hopefully resolved.

When relationship conflict arises, it can go one of 3 ways:

  1. It can end the relationship because people aren’t able to work through their hurt;
  2. It can strengthen the relationship and take things to a whole new level; or
  3. The relationship can become superficial.

Unfortunately many people don’t have the necessary skills to work through issues. Growing up they’ve been taught to ‘keep the peace’ and ‘be nice’ and this approach is a recipe for disaster for authentic connection and conflict resolution. It also means they take option 3, which can be detrimental to mental health.

You see, when you ‘put on your mask’ and continue on in a relationship without having resolved the conflict, you’re forced to suppress those hurt parts (within you) and pretend that everything is okay. This creates disharmony inside of you because these hurt parts just want to be understood and respected (by you). And the process of suppressing them just drains you of energy. In my experience, this ‘suppressed stuff’ is often at the root of things like anxiety, depression, addiction, overwhelm and burnout.

Sadly, many people haven’t yet made the link between mental health problems and relationships. And it’s not just relationships with others that I’m talking about. The relationship you have with your own self is also critical. Unfortunately, many people continue to interact with others in ways that are hurtful to both their own self and the other person and it’s time to learn a more authentic way of being in relationships so that conflict can get resolved.

Here are the main reasons I believe conflict doesn’t get resolved:

  1. Taking offence and becoming defensive. When someone confronts you about an issue, they’re doing so because they feel hurt and they value the relationship enough to bring it to your attention. Being loving isn’t about always being ‘nice’, it’s about being ‘real’, and it takes someone who really cares to step out of their comfort zone to bring it to your attention. Often the confrontation is done out of anger or sadness, but you’ve got to realise that the person doing the confronting is hurt. Sadly, many people become very defensive when they are confronted and they go into ‘ego protection mode’, justifying and rationalising their words and behaviour. This isn’t a loving thing to do because it makes the issue about YOU as opposed to THEM. Remember they are confronting you because they are in pain. In valuable relationships, it’s important to stay open when someone confronts you, despite how uncomfortable this might make you feel. Because when you work through all the emotion, you’ll always come back to love and ultimately a stronger bond. Unfortunately many people are unable to do this because they get triggered and go into their ‘own stuff’ and this defensiveness closes them off to authentic connection and finding a resolution.
  2. Black and white thinking. Taking an ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’ stance is at the heart of every conflict and war. But in order for relationships to be strengthened via conflict (and take the second option), both parties need to be able to see the ‘shades of grey’ in life. Unfortunately, many people go into their ‘own stuff’ as mentioned above, which prevents them from staying engaged.
  3. Lack of Empathy. ‘Understanding engagement’ as opposed to ‘judging disconnection’ is critical for healing. Sadly, many people don’t possess the skill of ‘empathy’, which is being able to step into the other person’s shoes and see the situation from their perspective. An example is when one party is still hurting and the other party says ‘but I’ve already said sorry’. Here empathy is required. If you’ve said sorry and the other party is still upset, rather than arguing that you’ve already apologised, step into understanding. Ask ‘what can I do to make this right’ OR say ‘I’m confused, please help me understand what’s going on for you’ OR say ‘you mean a lot to me and you’re obviously hurting and I’ve somehow caused this - just know that I’m willing to do whatever it takes to work through this’. This helps the other person to feel safe and understood and open up even further.
  4. Blaming. When conflict arises, many people blame the other party entirely rather than looking at how they have also contributed to the situation. Just know that blaming is a victim’s game. There are always two or more parties that contribute to every conflict and healing arises when each party is able to accept responsibility for ‘their part’.
  5. Disengaging. You might initially go into your ego defence mechanisms and put up walls when someone confronts you. You’re not perfect and criticism can be harsh and hurtful. But it’s how you deal with that hurt that matters. Once you’ve worked through your emotions, it’s really important to reengage so you can attempt to work things out. Unfortunately many people disengage completely (and often for good). As mentioned above, ‘their unhealed stuff’ gets in the way of finding a resolution. If this happens to you, just know that you cannot force anyone to do anything they don’t want to do. Despite how badly you wish to find a resolution, you need to respect the other person and walk away. Learning to deal with the feelings that arise within you is where your power lies. In a nutshell it’s about being able to sit with uncomfortable emotions and unfortunately many people don’t possess this skill.
  6. Being Two Faced. People who are nice to your face that complain and bitch behind your back are engaging in disrespectful behaviour. They have been taught to ‘be nice’ as opposed to ‘be real’. It’s a learned pattern that needs to be unlearned for conflict to be resolved.
  7. Lying. It’s very difficult to stay in a relationship with someone who is unwilling to own up to their mistakes and admit the truth. This person has a strong ego and this is getting in the way of authentic connection.
  8. Taking Offence and Not Speaking Up. As I mentioned before people unknowingly hurt others all the time. It’s not intentional. But if you don’t speak up and voice that hurt, then there is no chance of it getting resolved. People aren’t mind readers and most (if given the opportunity) would want to make things right.
  9. Conscious Loving Disconnection. It can be hard for people who have done a lot of work on themselves to interact with people who haven’t. In an ideal world, conflicts would be worked through very quickly because each person would have taken responsibility for the health of their inner world and would have the skills required for this to happen. Unfortunately this isn’t the case. When someone only looks within when you discuss a problem, it can become hard work and emotionally exhausting to keep ‘bringing things up’ and ‘holding the emotional load’ while the other person plays catch up. When people walk away from this type of relationship, they are doing so with love, which is quite different to the first option above.

Regardless of what transpires during conflict, healing can occur when two parties are able to stay connected and understand one another. You see conflict isn’t the problem. As I mentioned before, it’s actually healthy because it can strengthen relationships. The real problem is not having the skills to be able to work through conflict. And this must be addressed at the individual level.

Learn these skills in The Emotional Fitness Gym 

Learn more about Heidi Di Santo

NOTE: This article was published in Oh Magazine

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