#Askingforafriend: Navigating conflict and maintaining a caring relationship

By Lauren Dixon
GCU Office of Student Care
#Askingforafriend

It is a vulnerable thing to be human, characterized by paradoxical needs for connection and autonomy, for activity and rest, for accountability and grace, for security in what is known and risk in what is novel, for solidity in our present sense of self and potential for growth and development for our future sense of self.

The navigation of paradoxical needs, intertwined among the relationships in our lives, requires a complex and dynamical approach, meaning there is no clear blueprint or model for how to consistently get these ever-shifting needs met.

As our dynamical wants/needs/preferences shift from day to day, they simply will not always align with the wants/needs/preferences of our friends, family, partners, co-workers, etc. Conflict is inevitable.

This is a vulnerable experience, because to identify and express something we want or need incurs the risk that the want or need may not get met.  

When our wants/needs go unmet, we are likely to experience feelings such as anger, disappointment, devastation, helplessness, rejection, humiliation or shame. As I’m sure most of us can attest, these are not pleasant emotions to feel.

As such, starting in early childhood, the human psyche takes on the task of equipping itself with an arsenal of ways to protect and defend against vulnerability to these painful experiences. This arsenal includes strategies such as avoidance, defensiveness, criticism, yelling, belittling, laughing, ignoring, etc.

So we show up in relationships with yet another paradox: with the longing for vulnerable connection and with the armor we bear for protection. (And in case it’s not obvious, behaviors like the strategies listed above do not foster connection.)

Conflict (acknowledging that we disagree about something) often triggers a perceived threat or attack to one’s intelligence, dignity, morality or goals and summons the armor that seeks to defend why our thoughts, actions or preferences are “right.”

So what’s the secret to navigating conflict and maintaining a caring relationship?

We have to stop making conflict about debating who is “right” and shift our intention to exploring an understanding of each other as complex, dynamical, paradoxical beings.

We must shift from monologue to dialogue, from seeking rightness to seeking a relationship.

We need to ask each other:

  • What emotions do you feel?
  • Why do you feel them?
  • What do you value?
  • Why do you value it?
  • What personal experiences make this issue meaningful to you?

The answers to these questions cannot be found in any website, article, video or statistical analysis to which we might otherwise turn in efforts to support our “rightness.”

When you find yourself in conflict with another, ask yourself, “Do I want to be right or do I want to be in a relationship?”

To be clear, choosing “relationship” over “being right” is not a concession that we’re “wrong.” It’s simply side-stepping a trap that erroneously suggests our present thoughts/preferences/actions are tied to our value/worth.

Meaningful connection, to ourselves and to others, does not come from being right; it comes from being understood and accepted, in all our paradoxical complexity.

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GCU Magazine

Bible Verse

"But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:20)



Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

To Read More: www.verseoftheday.com/