Are We Still Arguing About This??
Lord knows this was the familiar refrain at my family get-togethers for decades! That’s right, decades. “You two are still arguing about this?”
By the time we reach our thirties and beyond, we’ve engaged in lots of conflicts, maybe even started quite a few, some with positive results and others with no good outcome. Unresolved conflicts can leave us with many difficult feelings to sort through especially if those conflicts involve relationships with family and intimate partners. There are certain times in life when many people reflect on their relationships, past conflicts, mistakes, and successes in an effort to reconnect and repair relationships or to avoid having the same outcomes in their current relationships. Birthdays and holidays are usually good for that.
It’s difficult to keep trying, but worth it if we can accomplish what often seems like the impossible. Now, I’m not asking you to set yourself up to be misused and disregarded by the other person. If they do nothing but argue and blame you, then clearly, they don’t want to resolve this. This happens in some situations, but less often than you think.
Think about a conflict situation you have been involved in that did not go well. Really try to reflect on what did not go so well about it. Maybe it is an ongoing situation or one that ended a relationship.
Now focus on the feelings involved. What comes up for you as you think about it? When I ask people to do this, they can easily feel anger, upset, mad or even frustrated, but I want you to go for the emotions that sit underneath those feelings like hurt, embarrassment, disappointment, betrayal, loneliness, abandoned, isolated, these are the feelings that fuel anger, upset and eventually rage.
As you identify the feelings, write them down so that you can remember them. Now, what’s the story you tell yourself about this conflict? What do I mean by that? I grew up with a lot of conflict not just in my immediate family, but in my extended family as well. I’m talking aunts, cousins, uncles, even people I found out later on weren’t really related to me, yeah… Black families do that a lot.
The story I used to tell myself about my Aunt Mary was that she didn’t want to share time with me, she didn’t love me, never, or not as much as she loved my other cousins. For a long time, I thought she was mean. I honestly never found out her complete deal, but bits and pieces surfaced over the years. The main thing though was when I chose to point out to her the conflict created by her actions or words, she would be defensive but remained open to hearing from other family members about it, which would send her back to me to try to work things out. There were things about her operating behind the scenes that I was unaware of that were bringing up emotions within her that had little to nothing to do with me that the conflicts with me seemed to trigger.
You have to leave room for the unknown, the things you just do not know about the person, what’s operating underneath this conflict and how this conflict is affecting them.
If you want to engage in a conversation about the conflict with your person, decide your why without the story you are telling yourself about them. Come on, we all tell stories to ourselves about why the other person is behaving the way they are or how they are going to react if we bring the conflict to them once again.
- Be open
- Tune in to the assumptions you are making and put them to the side.
- Instead of acting like you know, Ask.
- Then Actively Listen
- Paraphrase – check-in
- Pause and Breath – manage your emotions decisively
- Make a choice – you are either choosing to respond or allowing your emotions and physiology to react.
It’s up to you what you want to do about these ongoing conflicts in your life. You probably won’t resolve all of them, but some is better than none. As time goes on, it will become even more important to you to do this. Trust me. Relationships are precious. I hope you can save some of yours.
I’m rooting for you.