Embracing Conflict in Relationships

Posted on August 26, 2015  in  [ Language & Communication ]

If you are like me, you do not like conflict. If you are like me, you are an avoider.

As avoiders, we feel uncomfortable when there is tension in our relationships. Communication scholars sometimes call this non-assertion: “the inability or unwillingness to express thoughts or feelings in a conflict” (Adler, Rodman and du Pre, 2014, p. 247).

This is exactly how I often feel, what I often do. However, in my desire to be a good friend, husband, father, son and brother, I have had to learn how to embrace some aspects of conflict. It turns out that there are benefits to healthy conflict, tough conversations and engaging in dialogue with those who hold competing or divergent viewpoints from your own.

Conflict is difficult because of the often uncomfortable (and consequently undesirable) emotions it arouses. In order to overcome my avoidance style, though, I had to learn that it was not just my emotions or how I handled my emotions that was the problem. The root problem was that I held false beliefs about myself and about the benefits and consequences of conflict.

My first false belief guiding my response to conflict was that I did not need anything – I did not need to change. I would have never said this, but looking back on many conflict situations in my family and marriage relationships, I can now see how I thought they were in need of a change, not me.

This attitude is destructive to relationships. Jesus calls us to be sober in our estimation of ourselves, to put others first, to be meek and poor in spirit. All of these suggest that we are in need and that living in community can meet those needs if that community is submitted to the Word of God, seeking to know God more and more each day.

So, the first step is to look for the ways we may need to change; seeking others who can help see where we need to change is an important part of the first step (this may even be a counselor – they’re really good at it!).

The second false belief I held is that difficult emotions or tension in relationships is bad.

False.

I have learned that tension in relationships encourages us to grow and become better people if we learn to effectively manage our communication when we experience emotional arousal or discomfort. Daniel Cohen, in a 2013 TED Talk, makes this point when he says that the “loser” in argument actually gets more out of the argument.

In other words, conflicts refine us. When a conflict makes us more aware of our shortcomings, both relational partners win!

So, embrace the tension in your relationships and learn effective ways to communicate with humility when conflicts arise.

Communication is key in all aspects of life! Learn more about expressing yourself and the importance of communication in our previous blog posts. Interested in a liberal arts degree? Learn more by visiting our website.

References

Adler, R.B., Rodman, G., & du Pre, A. (2014). Understanding human communication. (12th ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Cohen, D. (2013, February). For argument’s sake [Video file].

Joshua Danaher, MA

Joshua Danaher studied communication at Arizona State University (ASU). Joshua is passionate about communication and dialogue, particularly in crisis/conflict situations. Areas of research interest include interpersonal, religious, family and intercultural communication. Before coming to GCU, he worked as an adjunct professor in the Maricopa County Community College District, as a communication specialist at Pathways Platform Corporation and as a subcontractor.

Learn more about Joshua Danaher, MA

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