S2 EP101 – Learning From and Resolving Relationship Conflict

Episode Summary

Dr. Margaret Paul explores how to resolve conflict in ways that bring you closer to your loved ones. She teaches you how to learn from conflict rather than avoid it or give yourself up to keep the peace.


Hi everyone. This is Dr. Margaret Paul with The Inner Bonding Podcast, and today I want to talk about how to learn from and resolve conflict in your relationships. 

Of course, conflict is a part of life. We are always going to have conflict in our lives. Conflict can be seen as a problem, or it can be seen as an opportunity to learn. And today I want to talk about how to not only manage and resolve conflict, but how to learn from conflict rather than see conflict as something to be avoided. 

Many of you already know that, in inner bonding, there’s only two intentions possible in any given moment: The intention to learn about what’s loving to you and to others, and the intention to protect against pain with various forms of controlling behavior. When conflict comes up, what most people do is that they go right into the intention to protect, avoid, and control, and once one or both people consciously or automatically choose this intention, there is no way to learn from or resolve conflict.

This is what most of us learned to do from the role modeling in our families. We learned to protect ourselves in conflict by getting angry or shutting down or giving ourselves up or explaining or defending or resisting. There are so many ways that people have learned to try and have control over what’s happening with the other person. When you get angry, you’re trying to get the other person to stop what they’re doing or see things your way. Or you’re giving yourself up in the hopes that then they’ll stop being mad at you, or you’re withdrawing to punish them and shut them out and not feel the pain of what they’re doing or how their being toward you, or you’re explaining or defending or teaching or over talking to try to convince them to agree with you. And it’s likely that the other person is doing the same thing because both people have been triggered by each other’s intention to control into their own intention to control.

I hope it obvious that when you’re both trying to control each other, or one person is trying to win or at least not lose, there is no way to resolve the conflict. It’s a battle rather than a learning opportunity. The way conflict gets resolved is when there’s two or more people who are truly open to learning with themselves and with each other. What this means is that they’re open to learning not only about the other person’s point of view, but they’re open to learning about what may be going on for themselves, why they may think their way is the right way or the only way, or why they are so invested in their point of view.

There’s a lot to learn when there’s conflict, and the only way that this learning is going to take place is when both people are open to learning. It can’t happen when one or both people are closed. How can any issue get resolved when you’re trying to win or be right, or you’re trying not to lose, or you’re trying not to get hurt or you’re trying to get the other person to hear your point of view? How is it possible that any resolution will occur? Obviously, it’s not possible. And yet most people do this over and over again. Then they may try to talk it out, hoping that they can say the right thing to convince the other person to hear them, to listen to them, to understand them. Many people believe that if only the other person hears them and understands them, they will see things their way and change.

As long as you’re trying to get heard and get understood, you’re trying to have control over the other person hearing you, understanding you, and then ultimately doing what you want them to do. Needing to be heard and understood is often an indication that you’re not hearing and understanding yourself and you might not be hearing and understanding your partner. And so whenever your focus is on being heard or understood, you might want to try and turn that around to hearing and understanding both your partner and yourself. And that’s what the intention to learn with another person is about. Of course you want your partner to hear you and understand you – we all want that, but if your intent in being heard and understood is to control rather than for both of you to learn with no agenda, then it’s controlling to try to get heard and understood. 

So one of the healthy ways of dealing with conflict is to move into a true intention to learn about yourself, about your own beliefs, your own fears, why this is so important to you, as well as about your partner, with no agenda in mind other than learning.

You’re not trying to learn with the hopes of getting your partner to change and do things your way. You’re wanting to learn because learning creates intimacy with a partner, and because you know that through learning, you’re going to reach resolution through new understandings – new information. Whether it’s conflict at home or at work, it’s only when new information comes in that you have any way of resolving the conflict. 

This is one healthy way of dealing with conflict., but this can only happen when both people or all involved are open to learning.

But you have no control over whether another person is going to open to learning with you. You can’t make somebody open. So if the other person isn’t open, it means that you’re going to need to figure out how to take care of yourself in the face of this conflict, rather than trying to talk it out. People do this all the time. Let’s talk, let’s talk it out, but they’re not open, so they don’t get anywhere. They just go back and forth. They end up in a battle again, and they generally think it’s the other person’s fault that they are stuck in conflict again. 

If somebody comes at you with a blame, and you think there’s a possibility that this person is going to open, you might say to that person, “I’m more than happy to talk with you about this, but I can’t do it when I’m being blamed. If you to take it down a notch or two and stop blaming me, we can talk about it.” If the person does that, if they open, that’s great. But if they just keep coming back at you with an attack, with a blame, being angry, with explaining, defending, accusing, then another healthy way of dealing with conflict is to lovingly disengage. 

Lovingly disengaging is totally different than withdrawing. Withdrawing is when you’re angry, you’re hurt, and you shut down and walk away to punish the other person. It’s a form of control. Your behavior is saying, “I’m going to shut you out and take away my love so that you’ll feel punished. And then maybe you’ll care about me and be the way I want you to be.” Lovingly disengaging is not about withdrawal. It’s not about shutting down. It’s not about closing your heart. It’s about taking loving care of yourself rather than about trying to change the other person.

In fact, it’s not at all about trying to change the other person. It’s about getting out of range if somebody is blaming or attacking you. You can say to the other person, in a calm voice, something like, “It doesn’t feel good to be treated this way. So I’m going to go take a walk and maybe we can talk later,” or I’m going to go out and have lunch with a friend,” or “I’m going to go read my book and maybe you’ll be feeling better later. I’ll be happy to talk with you about this, but I’m not going to stand here and be blamed or attacked.” There is no anger or blame for what the other person is doing. It’s just getting out of range and taking care of yourself. Then it’s important, when you lovingly disengage, to go inside and attend to your feelings. See if you’ve taken on any of the blame, and if you have, take a look at any false beliefs that got triggered. Then open to the truth and bring in love and compassion towards yourself. It’s a matter of going inside and taking care of yourself and not harboring any anger or resentment. 

When somebody comes at you with anger or blame, they want energy from you. They want to engage with you because there’s some way that they’re abandoning themselves. There’s some way they’re not taking care of themselves. And if you’re going after somebody with anger or blame, there’s some way you’re not taking care of yourself. The self-abandonment creates an inner emptiness that wants to get filled by engaging in a conflict. The anger and blame is a pull to engage to fill the inner emptiness.

Wanting to engage in conflict is an addictive way of avoiding responsibility for your own feelings. So when somebody comes at you with an attack, it’s so much healthier, if they’re not going open to learning with you, to walk away with your heart open, sending them love, not resentment. There’s no point in blaming them for blaming you. Keep your heart open so that if later they are ready to talk, you’re open. You’ve gotten out of range and taken care of yourself, done something you enjoy doing, dealt with your own feelings, and feeling your love for that person in your heart. And then going back when if or when both of you are open learning. 

Now, if you know that there isn’t going to be any openness, if you’re with somebody who just doesn’t want to deal with conflict at all, and just completely wants to avoid it and won’t get into any discussions with you, then you need to go inside and do an exploration as to how do you take care of yourself in this conflict. I run into this all the time with my clients when I’m working with one of the partners and they say, “But my partner just won’t talk about it. He or she shuts down or goes away or wants to shove it under the rug and just won’t deal with it.”

When that’s the case, you need to decide for yourself how to take loving care of yourself regarding the conflict. You can’t make that person open. You can’t make them recognize conflict as an opportunity for learning. You can’t make somebody want to learn. So when you’re with somebody who just isn’t going to open, then you need to learn to go inside to develop your connection with your own spiritual guidance so that you can discover what’s loving to you, and then take that loving action on your own behalf. If you take an action that you think is loving for you, and your partner doesn’t like it, then it becomes your partner’s issue to deal with. And then maybe he or she will be willing to talk about it.

Let’s say that a couple has a baby, and the woman is taking full care of the child and feeling overwhelmed. And the husband is working and coming home and not participating. She’s feeling wiped out and she asks him for help and he won’t help. And he won’t talk about it. Now, if they’re in a financial situation where she can hire help, then she can say, “Okay, then what I’m going to do to is hire some help.” 

This is the situation I was in when I was having my babies, and my husband wasn’t willing to help, and we didn’t have money. But I knew that I needed help, so I knew that I needed to find a way to earn the money to get some help, even if it was just to be able to pay a high school kid that would come over and help after school.

And I did. I found the ways to earn the money to hire some help so that I wouldn’t have to be bugging my husband all the time and having that conflict over help. So there’s always a way where if you recognize that you’re unhappy about something and your partner or somebody at work, or whoever it is, is not going to deal with you about it, then you’re in the position of lovingly disengaging from the conflict, doing your own inner work to discover what you need to do to take care of yourself so that you don’t feel like a victim of the other person not being willing to deal with it with you. 

I just talked about two healthy ways of dealing with conflict – either you both open to learning, or if that’s not available, you lovingly disengage, take care of yourself and explore what you need to do to take care of your end of this conflict so that you feel okay in the situation.

Another way to lovingly dealing with conflict, is for each of you to be warm and compassionate with your partner when your partner gets triggered into fear or anger. Sometimes, all the person needs is a hug and letting him or her know that they are not alone – that you are here for them and you love them. Much of the time when a person goes into their wounded self with anger or blame, or they shut down and withdraw, it’s because they have been triggered into fear or even trauma from childhood. Hugging them and letting them know they are not alone can bring them back into the present and may even enable them to open to learning with you.

However, you can only do this if you haven’t been triggered into your wounded self. Many of us have trauma around conflict due to childhood experiences. Having been raised as an only child by a narcissistic and rageful mother, I was terrified of another’s anger. I would freeze in the face of  anger or blame, and there was no way I could stay present as a loving adult. I had to do a lot of Inner Bonding work to heal the fear and reach a point where I can now stay open to learning and offer love and comfort when someone is triggered into their scared, angry, or blaming wounded self.

Sometimes people need a third person to help them resolve a conflict. Very often I have worked with couples who have been in the same conflict for 25 years, like not picking up clothes or one person being messy and one person being neat, or how money is spent. The conflict goes on for so many years because both people are trying to control. And then they have a session with me or a number of sessions with me, and I help them each move into an intention to learn and the conflict that’s been going on for so many years gets resolved. It’s not hard to resolve conflict when two people are open to learning.

But what do you do if a partner is never open to learning? You either need to accept this and find your learning, growth, and connection with friends and others, or leave the relationship. You can accept or leave, but what you can’t do is get that person to open.

My clients often ask me what to do if their partner insists on pursuing the conflict even when they are not open.

If you say “No, I don’t want to talk about it now,” and they go after you, saying things like, “Don’t walk away. You always walk away!” You need to stay strong and say, “I’d be happy to talk about it when there’s openness between us, but I’m not going talk about it as long as there’s explaining, defending, blaming or anger.” And then don’t get hooked into talking any more until both of you are open.

And what about when one partner withholds information or lies? Obviously, if a person is doing that, they are coming from an intention to control. They want to avoid conflict and keep the peace. They’re afraid of your reaction if they tell the truth. If you’re in a relationship with somebody who’s not being honest with you, you might want to explore what you might be doing that scares them. Are there some ways you are contributing to an unsafe environment by how you are reacting? If you’re getting angry or annoyed, you might be perpetuating an unsafe system between you. 

However, sometimes when people lie it has nothing to do with you. They’ve learned to lie or withhold the truth as a form of control as they were growing up and never did the work of creating enough of a loving adult to be strong enough to be honest. If this is the case, then you either need to accept it or leave the relationship. You can’t make them be honest or do their inner work to be strong enough to tell the truth. 

Clients often ask me how they can overcome their fear of conflict, and this has to do with learning to be a powerful spiritually connected loving adult who know how to take loving care of you in the face of another’s ego wounded self. When we know that we can take care of ourselves, our fear goes away.

Sometimes people say to me, “Don’t I have the right to be angry?” I have a particular way of viewing anger in relationships. It may not be the way that many other therapists do, but my experience is that when people get angry at each other, it’s a blame and they’re making the other person responsible for them. It doesn’t generally work for people to dump their anger, to blame each other, and it’s not an effective way of resolving conflict. Anger is an important emotion, and like all emotions, it’s giving us important information. Anger is almost always letting us know that there’s some way we’re abandoning ourselves. Anger is almost always a projection on to others of our inner child’s anger at us for our self-abandonment. You will find that if you stop abandoning yourself and start taking loving care of your own feelings, your anger at others will go away.

All that I’ve been talking about conflict also applies to groups of people, whether family groups or work groups. When people in a group are open to learning, much resolution and creativity can result. But the group can become toxic when one or more of the people involved wants to control the outcome.

I’m a member of the Transformational Leadership Counsel started by Jack Canfield, author of The Chicken Soup for the Soul Series, and a group of us have formed a diversity committee. We meet every other week on Zoom. We are a group of about 20 people devoted to anti-racism. I love this group because everyone is open to learning. For the past couple of years, we have created programs that we offer to the total group every six months at our retreats. It’s so excited to be in this creative process of a group of open people!

I’ve worked with business groups who have just been bickering on and on. And then I come in, I do a brief workshop. I teach them about intention, and then we deal with the issues, and they get resolved. Once I create an environment where they feel safe to open, the conflicts get resolved. 

When the loving adult is in charge of conflict with an intent to learn, and you have your own and each other’s highest good at heart, conflict not only gets resolved, but the creative process of learning together brings you closer.

I hope you join me in my 30-Day at-home Course: “Love Yourself: An Inner Bonding Experience to Heal Anxiety, Depression, Shame, Addictions and Relationships,” as well as for my 30-Day online video relationship course: Wildly, Deeply, Joyously in Love.

My recent books will also be a big help to you: The Inner Bonding Workbook: Six Steps to Healing Yourself and Connecting With Your Divine Guidance, Diet for Divine Connection: Beyond Junk Foods and Junk Thoughts to At-Will Spiritual Connection, and 6 Steps to Total Self-Healing: The Inner Bonding Process.

And, of course, we have much to offer you at our website at 

I’m sending you my love and my blessings

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