Some things just aren’t worth fighting about. Some things are too important not to. Here’s an example.
I had been meeting with a couple who had reached a crisis in their relationship. They each felt the other didn’t show them the respect they deserved and could only communicate from a position of resentment and anger. Even when I guided each one to repeat back what the other was saying they still failed to actually listen to what the other truly meant.
Both were strong-willed and persistent, a characteristic that could be helpful in the face of adversity. But in this setting it was getting in the way. I pointed out that as long as there had to be a winner in the conflict, both of them would end up losing. In fact, I suggested that they might even lose the relationship altogether.
After weeks of counseling with no change on either side I finally asked them to decide if the relationship was even worth fighting for in the first place. It was a question that shocked them. They had never considered how critical the conflict could become, and both agreed they didn’t want it to go that far.
More often than not the best “solution” to a family conflict is not a clever trick or a bit of advice that fixes the problem. What is usually needed is a shift in thinking about the nature of conflict itself, and an appreciation for the power it can have in building or breaking a relationship.
Sometimes the largest part of the conflict is the perception that having a fight is unacceptable and that feelings of anger or frustration are signs of weakness. Some families are embarrassed to have these uncomfortable dilemmas, and waste years trying to ignore them while they inevitably lead to deeper and deeper hurt.
When families learn to accept conflict as a natural part of a healthy relationship they can let go of these anxieties and focus their energy on fighting together as a team working to understand each other and heal their emotional wounds.
Once my clients realized what was at stake, the tears began to flow and communication slowly began to improve. On the surface their resentment seemed to be about petty disagreements, but underneath was a fear of abandonment and need to be unconditionally loved. Once they realized what they were really fighting for it gave them permission to fight together rather than against each other to save the relationship at all costs.