There’s a lot of conflict in our world these days, yes? Conflict abroad, conflict at home. I don’t know about you, but I’m growing weary of it. Conflict is a pretty normal thing. In one regard, it’s how we grow, and how we grow together. We clash until we know how to do it better.

Some ideas for making conflict better, even if just in our own homes, came to me as I read the book The Third Side, by William Uri, better known for his books Getting to Yes, and Getting Past No. He’s a really smart, kind, evolved kind of guy. And… he’s mediated major conflicts all over the world. We can learn from him. Here’s my version.

There are Three Intensities of Conflict

When I was learning relationship systems coaching I had an aha moment. “If we (my former spouse and I) had gone to someone who knew what I’m learning now, we could have had a different outcome.” But we didn’t. That training was very new in the year 2000. Instead we went to people who didn’t know what they were doing, and things got worse. We were doomed.

You can have a different outcome

  1. The day-to-day tensions. The stuff we put up with or ignore to get along. The unspoken requests, unmet needs, growth stresses.
  2. Then there’s more overt conflict. Passive/aggressive behaviors, withdrawal or avoidance, potshots, jabs.
  3. And the third is when it starts getting real. Threats, ultimatums, shouting matches, sometimes physical attacks.

These build on each other, or rather lead one to the other.

So what the heck do we do with it?

  1. The solution to day to day tensions is to prevent their buildup. Don’t just tolerate, communicate.
  2. The solution to day to day tensions is to prevent their buildup. Don’t just tolerate, communicate.
  3. If preventing and resolving hasn’t worked, the behaviors of the last step must be contained. Go to separate corners or in extreme cases get a restraining order or call police.

Just beyond that third level is a threshold. A point of no return. Passing this line moves things into destructive conflict from which it is very hard to return.

The Good News

Undergirding all conflict is an opportunity for constructive change. If you prevent level one from escalating, your conflict becomes fodder for constructive change. If you resolve your overt conflict, it too becomes fodder for constructive change. And if you can contain even the most hostile conflict before it hits that point of no return, it too can become a means to constructive change. Sort of like compost growing flowers. It still takes effort but it’s doable.

Accessing Solutions

People in conflict can sometimes manage the first level. With some conscious awareness and non-violent communication skills, it is possible to prevent a build up of the daily tensions. The other two levels though, are really hard to do without outside help. It’s kind of like trying to do your own eye surgery. It just doesn’t work. Whether you’re a couple or a country, if you are IN the conflict you aren’t going to be able to access the solutions. Get help.

Knowing What You’re Up Against

If you’re a couple in conflict, one of the best, quickest and least expensive options for help is a Relationship Assessment. I spend 90-minutes with your relationship doing a fair amount of research-based teaching but also looking for dynamics—where balance is off in about 8 key areas. At the end of the 90-minutes I can tell you what you’re up against and about how long it could take to work through it—if you want to. I’m convinced that, barring addiction and abuse, any relationship can mend if it wants to. So, I hope you’ll keep this in mind for yourself or a loved one. It just might save a lovership. Good golly it’s a much better resolution than divorcing. Ugh.