Navigating Relationships: From Conflict to Acceptance

Relationships are a beautiful and wonderfully complex part of life. They have the ability to bring satisfaction, companionship, and shared experiences, but they also come with a fair share of challenges. A common challenge experienced by most, if not all couples, is conflict. In this blog post, you will be shown how to navigate through conflicts in relationships and how to transform these conflicts into acceptance and understanding.

The Conflicting Sides of Conflict

The fact is, in every relationship, conflict is inevitable. It’s a natural part of human interaction, especially when two people are trying to synchronize their lives together. However, it’s not the existence of conflict that determines the health of a relationship, but rather how it is handled.

Consider this example: Tom and Lisa are a young couple who are in their first year of marriage. Both of them have different ways of doing things, from cooking to cleaning to managing finances. Their differences often lead to disagreements and arguments. Tom likes to make sure the lights that are not being used are shut off while Lisa does not see this habit as important. Tom prefers to save money carefully, while Lisa enjoys spontaneous spending. Although Tom picks up after himself and helps out with cleaning around the house, Lisa does not feel his idea of cleanliness is up to a level with which she is comfortable.

These differences could easily turn into a battleground, with each partner trying to impose their way of doing things on the other. However, if they approach their disagreements with respect and a willingness to understand each other’s perspectives, they can turn these conflicts into experiences they can walk away from and still feel good about their performance. The necessary element is true acceptance! True acceptance is not begrudging. True acceptance is a gift that is given without a sentiment of negativity. When this is intentionally provided in a loving and patient way, it is attractive and enlivens the other partner to want to accommodate your preferences.

A DEEP Understanding of Conflict: The Third Side of the Story

To navigate conflicts effectively, it’s crucial to understand their root causes. The DEEP model can help partners understand some fundamental areas involving conflict. DEEP stands for Differences, Emotional sensitivities, External circumstances, and Patterns of communication. By understanding these four factors, partners can gain a deeper insight into why conflicts arise and how to address them.

Tom and Lisa illustrate this model quite well. Their differences in cleanliness and financial management (Differences) are a major source of conflict. Tom might feel criticized and unappreciated when Lisa comments on his cleaning habits (Emotional sensitivities). The stress of moving to a new city and adjusting to living together (External circumstances) might also be exacerbating their disagreements. Finally, the way they communicate about these issues (Patterns of communication) plays a significant role in whether their conflicts get resolved or escalate.

From Conflict to Acceptance

Acceptance is an essential tool used to resolve conflicts and grow towards your partner instead of producing incendiary emotional climates. Acceptance doesn’t mean resigning to a situation or giving up on getting your needs met. Instead, it’s about acknowledging the differences between you and your partner and recognizing that it’s okay to disagree sometimes. Partners must not allow a disagreement to send insulting messages to each other. True acceptance generates a sense of compassion and understanding, which will significantly improve the quality of your relationship.

It is important to understand the concept of internal dialog when communication becomes tense and begins to preempt conflict. Your internal dialog has everything to do with how you see and treat your partner. Internal dialog is the conversation between your conscious mind and subconscious mind. Your subconscious mind’s primary objective is to keep you safe and protect your ego. It motivates you to deal with conflict or dangerous scenarios in a swiftly aggressive or evasive way. The subconscious mind does not use thinking to resolve problems, but relies on emotions to make split second choices to keep you safe. The internal dialogue that is stimulated by emotion creates a stress response that motivates you to run or fight. This impairs your ability to have a reasonable conversation with your partner where you can allow yourself to be vulnerable and discuss your fears and insecurities.

Let’s get back to Tom and Lisa. It will turn out better for Tom to accept that Lisa is more relaxed about leaving lights on and that it is just a part of who she is. The lens through which Tom sees Lisa is probably unintentionally focused on what he believes she is doing wrong rather than what her true intentions may be. Instead of trying to change her, he can focus on appropriately sharing his preferences that have to do with her spending or relaxed way of living. It is extremely important for him to share his preferences without criticism or feigned acceptance and then model the type of behavior he wishes to see. It is Lisa’s responsibility to not allow her internal dialog to reflexively prompt her to believe she is being insulted or shamed. If Tom patiently, calmly, kindly, and consistently models the behavior and communication he wishes to see, Lisa is likely to naturally begin accommodating Tom’s preferences where she can. She will be energized to do this because it’s coming from a place of love rather than a fear of his escalation.

Lisa, on the other hand, could accept that Tom is more careful with money than she is and try to understand his perspective. She could do her best to be attentive to his preferences while still spending on things she prioritizes. It is Tom’s responsibility to seek to understand before seeking to be understood. Why does Tom want Lisa to pinch pennies? Most likely, this pattern was modeled for him in childhood, or he experienced financial hardship in the past due to frivolous spending. What would it take for him to quell his financial fears? Vulnerability. If he shares his feelings in a way where he takes ownership of his fear, and not trying to project his fear onto Lisa for her to take ownership of, they can have a conversation about the validity of Tom’s fears and insecurity. Lisa can also feel she can explain her needs in a safe space.

Without the recognition of the factors that lead to conflict, Lisa and Tom’s internal dialogue projects negative experiences from their past on to each other. These past experiences may include disputes where they did not perform well in similar conversations or failed at getting their needs met. The subconscious mind screamed “I imagine you being critical towards me, so I’ll treat you as though you are being critical towards me.” Just as there is a causal element at drives conflict, there is also a causal element that drives change. The element that drives change is acceptance.

Deliberate Change through Acceptance

Once acceptance has been established, it paves the way for deliberate change. This is where you and your partner agree to work together, trusting each other enough to admit when a message was interpreted as hurtful. By being completely honest about how hard it is to do something or deal with a complicated issue, you give your partner a platform to be nice and help you. You both will see the nonsensical way that you might have ramped up into conflict, but now are able to be intentional about the words you use, the tones you speak in, and the emotions shared are those of care not contempt, understanding not intolerance, and love not disdain.

In Tom and Lisa’s case, acceptance could lead to changes in their habits and behaviors. Lisa might become more relaxed about cleanliness as she is focused on noticing what Tom does do and encourages the behavior and communication she wishes to see through gratitude and positive reinforcement. She might realize that her level of cleanliness can only be achieved by taking care of the things that Tom might overlook or not find as significant. Lisa might become more mindful about her spending since Tom has made his preferences known in a very loving and vulnerable way. Tom will be energized by observing Lisa investing effort into prioritizing to his preferences, and Lisa begins to be more attracted to Tom as she sees him allocating time to do cleaning that pleases her. It never seems to work out as easily as depicted here, but the principles ring true in every relationship!

Final Thoughts

Navigating through conflicts in relationships, especially during young to middle adulthood, can be a challenging journey. However, it’s important to remember that these conflicts are not roadblocks, but are almost like a rite of passage into a rich and fulfilling relationship. By understanding the DEEP roots of conflicts and embracing the power of acceptance, you can transform your relationship. Acceptance doesn’t mean giving up or settling for less, but rather acknowledging and appreciating you and your partners’ differences. It’s about seeing things from your partner’s perspective and finding a middle ground.

Once acceptance is established, it paves the way for deliberate and meaningful change. This change isn’t about winning or losing, but about growing together as a team. In the end, remember that every relationship is unique, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to conflicts. What matters is the willingness to understand, accept, and grow together. So, the next time you find yourself in the midst of a conflict, take a step back, breathe, and remember: it’s not you against your partner, but both of you against the problem. With understanding acceptance and deliberate change, you can feel safe and secure working through any issue with your partner. Vulnerably is a skill that must be practiced…you are always practicing!

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