A Conflict Resolution Expert Shares Tools to Help Men Successfully Deal with Relationship Conflict
I abhor conflict. It is the last thing in the world I want to experience. I have patterns of going to great lengths, great expense and heroic efforts to avoid it. That is of course, one of the key reasons I focused my Master’s Degree on the topic—to help myself and others navigate the inevitable “pain in the ass” we know as CONFLICT.
Having been exposed to domestic violence at an early age, raised in a gang neighborhood plagued with community violence, and having been a frequent victim of violence in my youth, the slightest hint of conflict is trigger for me.
Conflict releases that all too familiar chemical dump of adrenaline into my system, the subsequent hyper-vigilance, heighten senses, and disassociation from any environment I am in. My senses and spirt hover above the immediate context— scanning, predicting, anticipating an unexpected eruption of bloody angry violence. The lingering gift of past violent episodes; P.T.S.D.
Is Conflict Really Bad and Dangerous?
Many religions and philosophies hypothesize that humans are intrinsically evil, angry, combative, violent, and selfish. In short, a nasty lot. In regards to morality, a hair above wild beasts. Scientific reality proposes otherwise; human beings are hardwired for pro-social behavior. It was a micro-evolutionary adaptation so that the “group” as a species, could survive.
If our intrinsic nature was as contrary as many think, we would never have survived the hundreds of thousands of years our race roamed the earth in collective groups known as “hunter-gathers.” During those times, our nervous system and brains adjusted to a fact—without mutual cooperation our species would perish. All organisms living selectively weed out those attributes that make us less likely to survive.
One of the amazing adaptations our species made over countless millennia was the gift of conflict. Conflict is wonderful gift, much like pain. Pain is a gracious signal from our bodies that something is amiss—and if left uncorrected, it may compromise our life and survivability. Likewise, conflict is a gift to our social body, whether that is a civilization, company, or the more personal conflicts we have with those closest to us; our lovers.
“A Thin Line Between Love and Hate”
There is a wealth of truth to that oldies song by “The Persuaders.” Why is that? Men open up their vulnerabilities to those closest to them—usually the romantic partners they are with. When men experience conflict with those they have made themselves vulnerable to, it makes them very scared. Men are socialized to not feel any emotion other than anger—otherwise our masculinity may be challenged. So when we feel fear, it quickly metamorphoses to anger. Anger, when left unexpressed in constructive ways will alchemize into hate. A man’s vulnerable hearts are even more sensitive and fragile than our testicles—our alleged “manhood.”
How Can We Learn to Embrace Conflict in our Intimate Relationships?
If there is no conflict in your relationship, you have a very big problem. A GINORMOUS problem. This can be hard for many men to accept, especially for those like me who want to avoid at all costs the chaos of a violent or “drama-ridden” relationship. Yet, the reality is this: No Conflict = No Growth = Death of the Relationship. Period.
Conflict is as necessary as breath for a relationship. Get that settled into your mind—deep. Your seemingly harmonious relationship may be a volcano waiting to erupt, a quicksand pond waiting to suck you down. For those men who have their romantic relationships with women, realize women are socialized to NOT vocalize their opinions. They are socialized to conform, work around “Daddy”—the male in their formative years, if there was one.
In a patriarchal society, males generally are the power dealers. If a female confronts a male head on, they are classified as “bitches,” “unstable,” “uncooperative,” and of course, “undesirable.” Some specific sub cultures reinforce this more than others, but that is a topic for another article.
Encourage healthy conflict in your relationships. This will not happen just with you lamely saying, “Honey, is everything all right?” Yeah, right! That will not open up any real dialogue on relationships grievances and anger. Model it. Model constructive conflict.
Here is a Tool That Will Work for Many Men.
Most men I know like to teach something. I love teaching. I have taught Qigong, Tai Chi, and Martial Arts for years. I have taught violence prevention, conflict resolution, and healthy relationships for years with youth of color in Los Angeles. I homeschooled my sons for many years and taught ESL for international students. I now teach businesses on conflict resolution and stress management in the workplace. Teaching comes easy to me. Dealing with conflict most definitely does not.
The most priceless lesson I learned in my Master’s Degree education on Conflict Resolution is that conflict is an opportunity—to educate. Conflict is a gift that allows us to educate our lover on our boundaries, concerns, and inner needs. Conflict is a 3D real life classroom. Use it as such.
For the many men who hate dealing with conflict, especially conflict in intimate relationships, do this mental trick: When you hear the word, “conflict,” replace it with “education.” Literally do that. So if you have to confront your lover on invading your privacy by going through your phone, speaking ill of someone you care about, being rude to staff at a restaurant, whatever. Let them know it respectfully by educating them on how it makes you feel and why you are requesting them to alter their behavior. It is that simple.
To expect your lover to read your mind is the height of arrogance. They were not raised by your mama. They did not go to your school. They may not share your cultural identity. We humans can be pretty simple creatures; most of the time we simply do not know or are unaware of something.
Here is how your “education/conflict” dialogue may go:
“My dear, may I talk with you about something that is very important to me? When you do _______, it makes me feel _______. I really love and care for you, and I want our relationship to thrive and move forward. Will you please consider not _________ so I can feel safe and respected?”
Granted, this may sound a little clinical and lame, but put it in your own real deal words. Just remember to not get involved in character assassination, it is not about WHO they are, it is about the BEHAVIOUR they are exhibiting. Make that super clear. Give concrete examples (in a non-judgmental manner). Talk about it when you all are in a good space. Be gracious in giving them time to adjust to your education session. Do you get every lesson the first time? Of course not.
Some lovers may not be at the emotional maturity level to deal with this kind of respectful education on your boundaries without taking it as a personal attack. They saw modeled what they saw when they were growing up, so be prepared for that possibility, and be willing to cut your losses.
There may be many levels of compatibility, shared values, the SEX may be great, you may have kids together, et. al. But if your partner is not emotionally not mature . . . uh uh uh. Yet, if you are at the emotional level to be able to do this, you may need to consider exiting an unhealthy relationship. And, that, my brother, is another topic. A big one I hope to address in the future.