How to Embrace Conflict in Relationships
This is something I’ve been learning and meditating on recently - it is OK to bump into people, and for people to bump into you.
What I mean is, it’s OK to experience the relational friction that comes from living in community! Whether community at this time means your flesh-and-blood family, your friend-family (aka framily), your roommates, or the community at your work, gym, or church, you’re gonna experience that bump if you live life amongst other humans. That’s all of us!
For much of my life, I’ve received the message that I need to act in such a way that there is plenty of space between myself and everyone around me. Can you relate? I had an impression that I needed to stay out of the way, not be inconvenient, not ask too much, not draw too much attention, and avoid bumping into people, emotionally, conversationally, and relationally. I didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable, feel offended, or say anything that might require a clarifying conversation on either side. If I didn’t understand someone or a situation, I assumed it was probably my fault, and I absorbed all of that unhealthy, false responsibility.
Healthy individuals bump into people - it is a natural and necessary part of life and relationships.
What I am learning is that the pressure comes off when you realize that bumping is going to happen in any relationship where you are really showing up, and it’s a good thing! Here are a few pointers I’ve been learning to help me bump with the best of them, leaving myself and the other person more known, seen, and understood.
Show up as yourself
This is a big one for me. I have a tendency to observe the atmosphere and people around me and adjust my speech or behavior the way I think would be most accepted (to be liked) and give the most space (to not draw attention). Sometimes I just don’t say anything at all. In doing so, I give up the chance to come as I am and be known. When you do the brave thing of coming as you are, you give other people permission to do the same thing, and that’s when real connection can take place. It’s OK to be your messy self - people can relate! And it’s OK if you don’t mesh perfectly with someone! You can take a moment to get to know them better for who they are.
Believe the best in others
We have a tendency to catastrophize the intentions of others and their perceptions of us. Everyone is in process - you never know when someone is in the middle of a stressful or difficult situation, if they’ve had trauma in their life that is affecting their interaction, or if they just know some things you don’t! Starting off by believing the best in others grows a big bucket of grace to offer others and to ourselves. This also takes the responsibility off of you to be the fixer in the relationship, whether that’s fixing yourself or fixing them to avoid further confrontation.
Communicate & Interact
Talk it out! Learning how to interact in those moments creates a stronger relationship and character building on both sides. Practicing this sharpens our ability to communicate our thoughts, impressions, and intentions from a place of believing the best in the other person (instead of a place of offense, fear, or anger) This gives the other person an invitation to do the same! When you communicate thoroughly and graciously, you create a safe place for the other person to see past their own offenses or walls, and communicate what they’re thinking or feeling. It’s amazing how simple talking is - way easier than staying silent, assuming the worst, and creating a blown-up version of a situation that may not even really be there.
Walking Away is A-OK
There are some instances where you might be bumping with someone who is intent on staying in a place of conflict. It’s OK to walk away once you’ve spoken your thoughts, feelings, and intentions clearly and graciously. Sometimes extra space and time is needed for the other person to focus on the root issue, which might not have to do with you. You can walk away in love, and still believe the best in them as they are sorting through their own stuff.
I want to have the kind of relationships that are so alive, involved, and present that bumping takes place, and is normal! I want to show up as myself in relationships, and offer grace for others to show up as themselves, too. Embracing the bump isn’t easy if you have a background similar to mine, or if you try to avoid conflict, but the more we do it, the better we’ll get at this necessary part of a healthy, flourishing life! i don’t want to settle for less!
Have you had any bumps recently? Can you think of some ways you might have assumed the worst about yourself or others? Now, switch that internal talk to one of grace for yourself and for them. How can you approach the situation differently next time to contribute to more clarity, safety, and growth?
Bump on, dear ones! I’ll see ya out there!