Every relationship in our life – friendships, family, romantic and professional – can potentially be destroyed by conflict. The solution is not to ignore the conflict or keep moving around hoping to find a set of perfect people. We need to deal with the problems we currently face, otherwise they will just reappear elsewhere.
To a large extent, the only thing we can change in relationships is ourself and our own attitude. We can’t expect to change other people, but we can learn to deal with relationships in a way that promotes harmony and diffuses conflict. Resolving conflicts in relationships is one of the most important life skills we can develop and it is something we need to value.
Seeing the Issue From the Other Person’s Perspective
If we have a difficult issue, it is important to see the problem from the other person’s perspective. This does not mean we have to agree with their viewpoint; it means we try to see the issue from a different perspective. This empathy can at least help us to understand where they are coming from, and why they have their particular mindset. If we can do this we may wish to moderate our stance because we understand why they are acting in a certain way. If we only look at things from our perspective, conflict will be much more likely to occur. For example, a parent dealing with difficult children should consider the perspective that children can have at that point in life.
A major cause of conflict in relationships is when we expect people to behave in a certain way. The problem with expecting certain behaviour is that we get upset when they fail to live up to our expectations. Even those close to us are not our responsibility; we need to be tolerant of their mistakes and limitations. We have to respect their decisions on how to live their life. This detachment is not indifference; we shall retain concern and goodwill, but there comes a point where we need to give people the freedom to make their own choices – even if we don’t agree with them. This is especially true for parents who have an overbearing expectation of how their children will live their lives.
Dealing with Anger
Unfortunately, if we respond to situations by getting angry we will exacerbate the problem. Anger embodies a feeling of aggression and condemnation which people struggle to deal with it. Invariably it encourages people to respond in a similar way. If we feel angry, the best solution is to avoid talking / arguing at that particular time. We should calm our anger before confronting other people. Any conflict will only be exacerbated by anger. Similarly, if people approach us with anger, we have to respond in a different way – silence is better than getting mad at someone.
To a large extent we get what we aspire for. If we really value harmony in our relationships with others, then we will make it happen. If we give greater important to proving ourselves right and our own ego, then there will be a constant feeling of superiority and inferiority which breeds conflict. If we keep reminding ourselves of the desirability of harmony we won’t allow ourselves to become cantankerous and miserable; we will work hard to think of others.
The real secret to maintaining good relationships is generating a feeling of oneness. This means we will feel happy at the success of others; we will sympathize when they experience difficulties; we will endeavour to avoid hurting their feelings. In oneness there is no superiority and inferiority. Without oneness, we are prone to feelings of pride, jealousy and insecurity. If you feel a really genuine sense of oneness with other people, how can you want to hurt them?
Insecurity and Inner Poise
When we are full of insecurities our relationships become more difficult. The problem is that if we are insecure about ourselves we can become judgemental about other people; to make ourselves feel better we will start criticizing others. We may not be conscious of this, but it does happen. When we are peace with ourselves, good relationships will be natural. When we have inner peace and poise, we don’t rely on other people to give us security and praise. When we are at peace with ourselves, we tend to have a sympathetic and positive view of the world. Often we want to blame bad relationships on other people; but, actually the only thing we can really do is to work on ourselves. If we develop inner peace and poise our relationships will definitely improve.
When tense situations arise, talking can be the most effective way of moving past the problem. Some things are best left unsaid; it is inadvisable to bring up old conflicts unless absolutely necessary. When talking we should try to converse on positive issues; look for things which we agree on and can work together on.
Don’t get upset about little things. In the great cosmic game, most of the minor personality conflicts are relatively insignificant. If we get mad when someone doesn’t do the washing up, how are we going to react when they do something really bad? If you find yourself getting worked up by a series of small things, take a step back and try to evaluate their relative importance. For each minor failing try to think of a really good quality of that person. If you are sincere you will feel that this good quality is far more important than the minor indiscretion.
Although we don’t want to bring up old scores, sometimes it is important to make another person aware of the problems they are creating. If we feel someone else is constantly doing something wrong, we need to make them aware of their behaviour in a non confrontational way. Often people just aren’t aware of the problems they are creating and may actually appreciate being made aware of the problem. The best approach is to try and make them aware of how their actions cause pain to others; but, we need to try and do it in a way that doesn’t make them feel excessively guilty. Give them room and encouragement to make the necessary change.
No conflict is intractable. If we are willing to change our attitude we can develop harmony even with difficult people. It is always important to be positive and forget the past. If we can develop harmony in our relationships, it will definitely make a big difference to our life.
Tejvan Pettinger lives in Oxford where he writes on issues of self improvement and self development. He updates a blog Sri Chinmoy Inspiration. Recent blog posts include How to Avoid Becoming a Grumpy Old Man.