Relationship Conflict: learning to be mindful
We all experience conflict with others at times. It is a normal, albeit uncomfortable part of life. We can feel confused, reactive, hurt, avoidant, angry and a myriad of other emotions as we react to what we think is going on. This can make the distinction between difference and conflict. I heard a story recently as I watched a man really get what was going on for he and his partner.
The 13/31 Story
Two people are asked to add up the same set of numbers given to them on a bunch of tiles. Each adds and they come to a different total. They add again, and each is certain they are right, yet they still come to a different total, again and again. With increasing frustration and righteousness, each one believes that their addition is right. Eventually someone else comes in to see what they are doing and, as it turns out, one person was seeing a particular number as 13 and the other as 31. Based on what they were seeing, each was right. But, they did not see what they did not see.
Sometimes we are missing what we think we are seeing clearly. We make meaning of what we think we see, and then react to that meaning. Sometimes, in making and reacting to that meaning, we stop looking. When we see clearly however, no matter how arduous or painful, it is freeing in the end.
I have found that bringing mindfulness to two main areas can be a real gift in dealing with conflict. Firstly being mindful of our perspective on conflict. Secondly, being mindful of the familiar guests (tendencies of mind, habits of behaviour) that might lead us to lose perspective and stop us seeing clearly … or even looking.
1. Mindful perspectives on conflict
• The only time any of us acts inelegantly in any caring relationship is when there is a history that leads to us making meaning of a situation that then generates upset.
• We don’t have to agree with others in order to understand and accept their experience.
• People are not broken or faulty, they do not need fixing just because what they are saying or doing is uncomfortable, inconvenient or different from how we would do it.
• All behaviour has at its heart self caring intent, and when behaviour is no longer self caring, we look to what it was trying to achieve and then look for alternative ways to achieve that.
• Conflict only gets really challenging when both people are caught in familiar guests..as if there are no adults present. It only takes one person to remain clear and open to seeing, to shine light on difficulties.
• Sometimes we think we see clearly, but, if the conflict continues, chances are we are not seeing the meaning being brought to a situation – no matter how certain we are.
• We are all doing the best we can all of the time, otherwise we would do better. While our best at anytime is not always skilful, really, if we could do better in that moment we would; no one would choose otherwise.
2. Being mindful to befriend our own familiar guests such as:
• Defending and wanting to say attacking things.
• Making others wrong – for feeling or thinking or experiencing what they are. Some people have expansive emotional expressions while others are contained. Some use strong emotional words and some don’t use emotional words. It is easy to look at someone and label them as too angry, too emotional, too limited .. and make them wrong for being how they are.
• Blaming – “you have core issues”, “this is your fault”, “you made this..I would never….”
• Pathologising – “you are crazy, stupid, losing the plot, off your tree”
• Abusing – not so much saying upsetting things, we all do that sometimes, but saying or doing something that is hurtful to another and not being willing to take responsibility for the impact of our own actions.
• Labeling and Name calling – “you are too serious”, “you think too slowly”, “you expect too much”, “you expect too little”.
• Comparing – “you are as bad as your father, aunt, friend, Hitler”
We are all vulnerable sometimes. We all have places where old wounds lead us to bring meaning that others would not creating conflict rather than just difference. While we all want to move toward clarity, in the short term, sometimes it is just a kindness tread gently with understanding an area of old wounds not yet healed. When in conflict, we can choose to look mindfully for what we are not seeing, in ourselves, and in the other