In any kind of relationship, two people can’t be expected to agree on everything, all the time. As such, conflict is a normal part of a healthy relationship. However, many of us may be faced with more opportunities for conflict as we are cooped up at home with others for days on end during the COVID pandemic. This might be the most time that we have ever spent with our parents, children, spouses, friends or roommates! So, it’s really important to learn to handle conflicts in a respectful, positive way which can ultimately strengthen your bonds and help you get through this time.
Here are some skills that can be learned to help manage conflicts in a healthy way:
- This one is very basic, but it is often not done in the heat of the moment. Listen to what the other party has to say so you can understand the basis of the conflict. You might think that your spouse is upset about you not taking out the trash, when in fact, they are upset about you not expressing gratitude towards them for taking it out daily. Without listening, you have no basis for starting to solve the problem at hand.
- Pick your battles. There may be many things that bother you about someone in your life. Some are just small annoyances, which mean nothing to you in the bigger scheme of things. Think about what it is that you are feeling bothered by, and if it is worth an argument, or if it can be something that you learn to live with. If your roommate always leaves the lights on, even after the hundredth reminder, maybe that’s something that you will have to do for them. But if they are constantly blasting out music from their room while you’re trying to meditate, that’s something you can bring up with them in a positive, constructive manner since it is affecting your peace of mind.
- Focus more on future solutions than on the past. You will agree that the past cannot be changed. So, instead of ruminating on what someone should have done, or could have done, think about what you can both do moving on from here. Try to come up with solutions or suggestions together about how to manage the issue(s) at hand. For example, instead of yelling at your teenager for never helping with the chores, ask them for ideas on how they can develop a system to remember to do the dishes regularly.
- Avoid bringing other people into it. Instead of rushing to call another family member or call up a friend to take part in (or “mediate”) an argument, try to solve it yourselves. Stay focused on the issue at hand and explore it to come up with the crux of the complaint or concern that you have. Have a calm discussion where you take turns in explaining what it is, in simple and positive language, that you are concerned about. Try to come up with thoughtful, fair solutions to the issues at hand.
Managing conflict well is an art and a skill (and hence, many jobs require good conflict management abilities!). By being intentional and thoughtful about your actions when you are facing a conflict, you can learn to tackle them in a constructive manner. It is particularly important to try to manage your conflicts in a healthy way in these trying times when we all have so many external sources of stress. By doing so, you can reduce some of the anxiety and negativity in your life and use this time to strengthen your relationships.