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Issue#2: Conflict In Your Relationship

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There will be conflict in your relationship. 

Conflict is unavoidable in our high-stakes, important relationships.

Storytime…

I remember this interaction clearly because it was the first one with this particular client/student of the Better Partner Project.

He said words to the effect of:

“I love my partner so much, but we have this ongoing conflict. And I want us to have healed our own stuff so much that we don’t have conflict. Conflict, to me, is a sign of shit we haven’t healed.”

If you’ve been around my content for a while, you might have a suspicion of what my internal response to this might be.

I didn’t have a mouthful of water. But if I did, yeah, it might’ve burst out and saturated whatever was in front of me.

 

That. Just. Is. Never. Going. To. Happen.

 

Now, I didn’t just drop that on him with zero compassion.

 

I understand where this is coming from – likely a combination of his past experiences, possibly growing up in a family that avoided conflict like the plague.

 

An environment that either explicitly or implicitly communicated that conflict was a bad thing and to be avoided.

 

Maybe one parent moved towards conflict, possibly actively created it, and sought it out to test the strength and resilience of the connection in the relationship – which could have been healthy or wildly unhealthy.

 

While the other parent always moved away from it. Placating, pleasing, and sweeping under the rug.

 

A situation and ongoing set of circumstances where anyone little sponge watching this absorbs the lesson “Avoid conflict, it is not to be addressed, I’ve witnessed this.

 

OR, perhaps instead of that they witnessed two parents go at it on the regular. Fighting, name-calling, stonewalling, chasing/avoiding, immature finger-pointing, lack of ownership, volatile arguing – where his internal interpretation was “This is awful, I don’t feel safe and conflict is the cause of that. I must avoid this at all costs.”

 

Or potentially any number of scenarios where the major takeaway was “Conflict is bad, it indicates a relationship in trouble, it must be avoided.”

 

Likely add to that “I am unsafe in conflict. It means the other person is upset with me. To protect my position in the relationship, just avoid conflict.”

 

So yeah, I responded with some questions to poke into that idea he had.

 

It was vital to explore the origins of that idea for him. Without knowing that, it becomes hard to see the depth of attachment to that belief.

 

It has likely been running under the surface – and on it – for some time, possibly decades. Stubborn stories like that don’t just leave in an instant.

 

Even in the face of evidence to the contrary.

 

However, this guy wasn’t the first – nor will he be the last – to have an idea like “Conflict is bad” stuck in his brain like chewing gum to the bottom of your shoe.

 

You can walk away from it but the damn thing is not only still connected to where you were a few steps ago, but it keeps trying to stick again with each step.

 

Sometimes you have to stop. Take the shoe off. Get some nail polish remover or something strong enough to deal with it.

 

Wanting it to come off, hope it will do it won’t do it – we have to work at it.

 

And so we did – he did.

 

Changing our relationship to what conflict is and can be is often vital in this situation.

 

Yet for many guys, there is so much old baggage stuck to it, that it just stays stuck.

 

While for many others – think of the kind of new-age spiritual types full of fluff and lacking substance – there is another new and just as dangerous version of this.

 

In the wonderful book on men and masculinity, Robert Bly talks about the ‘Light Chasers” – men who are so drawn towards the ‘light’ and ‘enlightenment’ that “they are not able to see their own shadow”.

 

And not being able to see your shadow doesn’t make it go away, it just makes us ignorant of it.

 

And victim to it, as it runs out life from those very shadows while we keep running away from it towards some idealised ‘light’.

 

While I’m here, he goes on to say “Young ascenders often find themselves achieving spirit, but at the expense of life or their own grounding in masculine life.”

 

And “these flying people, giddily spiritual, do not inhabit their own bodies well and are open to terrible shocks of abandonment; they are unable to accept limitations, and are averse to a certain boring quality native to human life.”

 

What we can take from this (the whole book is WELL worth a read – get it here) is that when we try to avoid any conflict, any darkness, any struggle, we are simply – and naively – chasing some idealised place where we will be immune to challenge and anything ‘dark’.

 

All this does is make us complicit in our own self-deception. And frustration.

So, how do we approach and reframe ‘conflict?’

 

The measure of the relationship (and you), isn’t how often you fight, but rather how you approach and navigate the fights.

 

Conflict is not a sign of a bad relationship.

 

Avoiding conflict in the relationship is.

 

Bringing your shit into conflict is.

 

Acting like a little boy in conflict is; getting defensive, having to be right, shutting off to dialogue, bringing up past issues.

 

Don’t be avoiding conflict because you’re terrified of how it will make you or them feel, or what it may mean about you.

 

Avoiding the possibility of their disappointment or discomfort will only lead to creating more of it.

 

That doesn’t mean go and create those things. Just don’t make that your full-time side hustle.

 

Here’s my tip:

 

Locate your balls and face conflict with your feet grounded, your heart open, and your ego aside.

 

It is not you versus them.

 

It is the two of you versus the problem.

 

If you have a PARTNER you have a teammate. Work as such.