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Conflict: A Fact of Life, Stimulus for Change

Conflict: A Fact of Life, Stimulus for Change!

What is your perspective on conflict? Is it bad? Something to be avoided? An opportunity to win or be “one up?” Most conflict is not between a right and a wrong position, but two differing points of view! All relationships have differences and disagreements and conflict happens when two people want different things. Studies show the amount of disagreements is not related to marital happiness as much as how they are handled. Happy couples do not avoid disagreements; they resolve them while remaining respectful of each other, thereby strengthening their relationship. This can be managing the conflict, or finding solutions. The key in conflict is whether tension and moods escalate, or they lead to solutions and to resolution. Conflict can actually lead to change and personal growth.

John Gottman, a respected psychologist, says “a lasting marriage results from a couple’s ability to resolve the conflicts that are inevitable in any relationship.” The lack of conflict does not necessarily mean a healthy marriage. He believes relationships grow by reconciling differences. It is as if the working through the issues and events we experience actually strengthen relationships. There is a potential for conflict whenever we interact with others. We are all uniquely created and are different-just look at how complex and distinctive the characteristics are between a male and a female. Different, yet complimentary all at the same time.

Attitude appears to be foundational in healthy relationships. Do I see myself in a position of superiority where only I have rights, ideas feelings and beliefs? Do I see myself as inferior? When we see ourselves and our partners as equals we can be more open, honest, respectful and better able to meet their needs and desires. Friesen & Friesen believe attitude is an important component of conflict management; that accepting and understanding your partner along with a willingness to express yourself in a loving and caring manner are essential in long term committed relationships.
As understanding is vital, they use a concept that helps develop empathy and consideration for others and rejects defensiveness.

There are generally two methods we regularly use to respond to conflict or even change. One of these is to respond to protect ourselves in order to avoid pain and rejection. This response of protection usually leads to behaviors of blaming, defending, controlling and/or withdrawing. All of these actions defeat the purpose of understanding- hearing the other person and finding solutions. They are isolating types of behavior. The other way we respond, and one we use less often, is responding to discover more about yourself and others. This is an attitude of understanding, openness to change and listening. And yes, there is risk involved. Making a determined decision to find out more, and experience more, can mean changes you did not anticipate in your own attitude, understanding and thinking. To discover and understand more, ask questions: Why am I upset? What are my issues? What do I really want? Why is my partner upset? What might be their issues? What might they want?

Remaining calm, being non defensive, respecting and validating your partner and showing vulnerability can be difficult. But they can be practiced, learned and become a way of enhancing the satisfaction in relationships by managing conflict well. Commitment to changing how you see yourself, your partner and the relationship as a whole may bring about change. How you listen and how you react or respond are key to handling the certainty of conflict in everyday relationships.

Understanding Anger

“A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.” Proverbs 29:11

Anger is probably the most misunderstood of all of our emotions. We generally think of it as more of a behavior than an emotion: rage, screaming, throwing, intimidating and even harming someone. But it is an emotion, one that is common in all humans. It is important to differentiate between the feeling of anger and the expression or behavior of anger! It can certainly be a powerful, controlling and even dangerous emotion when not appropriately understood and dealt with. But anger in and of itself is not bad; it is an emotion like our others that is neither good nor bad. There are times when anger is incorrectly associated with trivial matters; and times when associated with legitimate concerns, but managed in a way that is irresponsible. So what is anger?

Anger is a strong feeling of frustration, irritability, annoyance or displeasure. It is a secondary emotion experienced in response to primary emotions of hurt, fear or frustration and is an emotion of self-preservation- an intent to preserve something about ourselves. Carter and Minirth (1993) relate this attempt at self-preservation in three areas: Personal worth- a perception of rejection or invalidation; our dignity is demeaned, there is a lack of respect or we feel de-valued; Essential needs- unmet needs such as affirmation, appreciation, love or security trigger anger; and Basic convictions- we become upset at imperfections or wrongs in the world around us related to our beliefs, values and morals. Whatever area anger comes from, healthy expressions of the emotion are possible and we can choose how we respond. Anger can serve as an alarm for intense feelings inside that need to be dealt with in healthy ways. It can motivate us and give us mental and physical energy to take actions that are necessary. It can also reveal a need or a growth area in a relationship.

Anger also has definite physiological effects. There are distinct impacts on our physical bodies regarding anger. In Taking Charge of Anger, Robert Nay advises that we look at signs and symptoms of anger: Heart rate and blood pressure increase to supply more oxygen to brain and muscles; Breathing rate will increase to get more blood to brain and muscles; Stomach and GI system: Look for stomach upset, queasiness, acid reflux, sometimes nausea; Muscles begin to tighten especially in the shoulders, neck, forehead, jaw; Vascular/Skin Temperature Changes: Look for the face to feel flushed, warm, or hot; Senses: Vision, hearing, smell and touch all are more sensitive and magnified; and chemicals are released into your blood such as Adrenalin.

Handling Anger

The steps to handling anger in a healthy manner are to first be aware of the emotion. Identify within yourself the hurt, fear or frustration you feel; identify the source and cause of the anger and your own behaviors. Do you withhold praise, attention or affection? Are your words cutting or sarcastic? Do you withdraw or avoid other people for periods of time? Do you show signs of hostility by a raised voice or through aggressive actions such as pushing, shoving or hitting? Next, accept responsibility for the way you respond, that you can choose how you will respond to anger. Hesitating or refusing to admit anger will do nothing to change or eliminate it. Communicate your emotions with others in a constructive manner and consider the needs and feelings of others. You can also choose to forget about it, or drop it. Lastly, evaluate the experience so you can discover more about yourself, your emotions and the underlying issues that may need to be dealt with and resolved. This may take some time, or other resources and support may need to be added into the process. Anger does not have to be acted out in inappropriate ways and can be a catalyst for healthy change if acknowledged and understood.


Setting Your Goals!

“Planning is bringing the future into the present so you can do something about it now.
–Alan Lakein
“The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.” -Proverbs 21:5

It’s almost impossible to begin the New Year without at least thinking about making some kind of resolution, new promises to yourself, or setting some newer, more realistic goals. Did you achieve the plans you set last year? Can you even remember what personal goals you made a year ago? It is said that change is inevitable, and that change is the essence of life itself. But most of us don’t want that change to just happen to us without our consent, and quite honestly we want to take some ownership or control and want to have a sense of power over the change in our lives. But for some reason, our personal plans are generally quite difficult for us to achieve. Sometimes even when the place we are, mentally, emotionally, or relationally is not healthy, we still feel more comfortable staying where we are than in making a change; even if the alternative would obviously be better for us. Why do we have so much trouble making our goals happen?

Goal setting is a powerful process for helping you chose where you want to go and what you want to achieve in your life. It motivates you to envision your future and gives you focus for where you need to put your hard work and effort. It also helps you decide what is important and relevant, and to understand and avoid distractions in your life. The process of setting goals also becomes a potent tool in building self confidence and self worth. When plans are accomplished we feel more self assured and secure about our ability to live a healthy and productive life. People who succeed in attaining their goals and making changes have some common characteristics: They are convinced of the change that is needed- they are motivated. They are committed- or willing- to make the habits necessary to reach their goals. They also believe they are able to succeed in their plans- they feel they have the abilities to make their plans come about.

Goal Setting Difficulty

The trouble most of us have with setting goals comes from a variety of issues including poor creation of goals, fear of failure and unrealistic expectations. Sometimes we don’t trust ourselves enough to believe we can accomplish our goals. Or, we feel the outcome does not look as advantageous as the effort it will take; we want there to be more benefit than what it will cost. Other times our patience/persistence quotient is low; time passes without results being seen-we expect immediate gratification. Many times goals are established without good planning or evaluation. A common guide for designing goals is the SMART acrostic. Make your goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. They should be expressed in a positive statement rather than a negative one. Setting precise goals that can be measured, that are within your abilities and control, and are possible to attain in a certain time frame will make the possibility of your achievement of them more certain. It is often quite easy to set unrealistic goals due to not understanding possible obstacles, underestimating skill levels that may be necessary, trying to please others, having too high of expectations or not grasping the time needed to accomplish them.

Write Goals Down!

Goals that are not written down are rarely achieved! After being written down and prioritized, daily or weekly to-do lists should be created to help you work toward accomplishing your goals. Once objectives
are written down, understanding your motivation, or the why, of fulfilling them is important. What is it that you want to achieve regarding your career, finances, education, family or other relationships, organization, physical or mental health, leisure and recreation, or volunteering? Expectations toward our goal attainment are critical to their fulfillment. We must be extremely careful what we think about, what we picture in our minds, what we expect to happen. Lanny Bassham, who teaches mental management systems, says if we don’t expect to make our goals happen, we have no chance of them being achieved. He proposes the reinforcement principle: “the more we think about, talk about and write about something happening, we improve the probability of that thing happening.”


Love & Intimacy

Marriage statistics can be down right depressing! A few years ago, Life Innovations published in their newsletter that 90% of people get married once, but the “average” divorce rate continues to be 50% and rises significantly higher with subsequent marriages; less than half of all couples will celebrate their 25th anniversary and the 7-year itch leads to divorce in the 8th year.

The good news is there is hope for married couples; and with focus on love, intimacy and intentional effort, marriage can be the most meaningful and enjoyable relationship two people experience. So, what is love what does it look like and how do you cultivate them? Here’s a true view of love: it is patient, kind, does not envy or boast, is not proud, rude, self-seeking or easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs and it always protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres. The principle that love is a choice is accurate. We choose to love even though we too are sometimes unlovable; and if we base loving someone only on feelings we are going to be in and out of love very often. In marriage, love can be seen like this: when the satisfaction, security and the personal growth of your spouse becomes as significant to you as your own. Intentionality is the key. When couples lessen the energy toward the relationship, it is easy for emotional drift to take place and feelings of closeness, intimacy and support to diminish.

John Gottman, a marital researcher, says couples who remain in long-term committed relationships maintain a five-to-one ratio of positive to negative behavioral exchanges. These are demonstrated in simple, small, daily actions that affirm the relationship such as acts of kindness, politeness and basic consideration of the other's needs, acts of sacrifice, conversation, romantic expressions of affection and sexuality, thoughtfulness, compliments and support in difficult times. These simple behaviors can lead to intimacy.

Intimacy is feelings in a relationship that promote closeness and a connection. When couples share meaningful parts of themselves, they are partaking in a dynamic process where they become close and explore their similarities and differences in feelings, thoughts and behaviors. Intimacy means you can risk and will not be destroyed. It means partners will work with each other in a way that allows them be uniquely special and valued. It is safe both to agree and to disagree; there is acceptance, support and commitment. Olsen & Shaefer say intimacy is the experience of sharing and being close in the variety of areas including: Emotional Intimacy: feeling close, sharing openly with support and genuine understanding; Social Intimacy: having common friends and a supportive social network; Sexual Intimacy: receiving and sharing affection, touching, physical closeness, and/or sexual activity; Intellectual Intimacy: sharing ideas, talking about events in one 's life, or discussing job related issues, current affairs; Recreational Intimacy: shared interests in pastimes, mutual participation in sports or any general recreational or leisure activity.

Parrott and Parrott say intimacy is the emotional side of love and without intimacy love is only hormonal illusion. Long term, committed relationships are ones where couples desire to really know each other. Intimacy has a soul mate or a best friend quality about it. It can only be true that part of the problem with today’s depressing marriage statistics has to do with too little unconditional love and a lack of intimacy. Much of the fulfillment in marriage hinges on love and intimacy. Be intentional to choose to love without condition; desire closeness, sharing, communication, honesty and support and make a willful determination to act out these behaviors.


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