We’re raised to think a harmonious relationship means zero conflict, but the truth is that conflict will arise. We’re human beings, and we’re not always going to see things the same.
When we believe that telling our truth will automatically result in conflict, we end up shutting down communication and losing our chance at both intimacy and growth. Then the issues between us fester, and we make them mean something that may have nothing to do with reality.
Something bothers us, but we don’t tell our partner about it because we’re convinced he/she will be upset. When we finally bring it up, it isn’t such a big deal after all. Or we make up a story in our head about what our partner’s behavior means about the issue. So we hide our true feelings.
Women are especially socialized to avoid expressing any feelings that might lead to conflict. But plenty of men play this same avoidance game, particularly when the emotion involves vulnerability. We’re told, “Don’t rock the boat” and “Just suck it up.” But if we can reframe conflict, seeing it as an opportunity to grow rather than a danger to avoid, we can begin to build that relationship container—a container that’s strong enough to withstand our disagreements.
In a relationship based on the new relationship blueprint, we must be willing to risk conflict by revealing what bothers us—even when it’s hard or scary. Even when we’re right that it’s going to rock the boat. To achieve intimacy and a relationship as a spiritual practice, the boat simply needs to be rocked!
I call it “cozying up to conflict.” I know this is the last thing any of us wants to do. I spent my whole 18-year marriage turning myself inside out to avoid it! But as I’ve been willing to rock the boat more and more often in my current relationship, I feel like the process has taken sandpaper to me—in a good way that has smoothed out my rough edges. Yes, it has made me raw at times, but the smoothed edges have been healing and allowed Aaron and me to be more intimate and truthful with each other.
When we “rub up” against another human being in a vulnerable way, it’s a kind of “exfoliation” that gets rid of the layers that keep us hidden and afraid.
I know, I know. It doesn’t sound like fun. Sandpaper? A rocking boat? You may be shivering just thinking about it. Be gentle with yourself as you begin to alter your experience of it. Don’t try to rush toward change. Baby steps are fine.
It has taken me some time to embrace conflict, but if I can do it, so can you.
I have a trick for when I’m struggling to see Aaron’s point of view. I visualize myself looking through the front window of a house. This is my position. Then I tell myself, “I’ll be right back.” I imagine myself running around to the side of the house and looking in through that window. This is Aaron’s position. And then I run back to the front. The idea isn’t necessarily for us to agree, but to be heard, seen, felt and met. This exercise helps me to have empathy for his viewpoint without needing to abandon my own point of view so I can hold both of our perspectives as valid.
The next time you find yourself in this situation, unable to see the other person’s point of view, imagine moving to another vantage point. This can help you broaden your perspective, support you in holding the differences and ease whatever conflict the two of you are experiencing.