e. non-conflict) situations. Applying the same techniques of maintaining a loving relationship and still communicating your own issues, while remaining calm and open to hearing the other person's complaints and issues, is a simplified way of viewing the majority of conflict management techniques.
Prioritization during conflicts, even those that ultimately lead to the dissolution of a relationship, is also essential to successfully managing the conflict (Chapman 340). Though conflicts ending in dissolution may make prioritization even more important (especially when there are kids involved), the same basic principles can be applied to any conflict. Instead of getting hung up on minor details or secondary problems, having the bravery, honesty, and insight to tackle the real underlying problems in the relationship is far more likely to lead to a satisfactory and frequently even a relationship-strengthening ending than petty bickering. Though this might seem quite obvious on the printed page, it can often be difficult to put into practice in a real-world relationship, especially when tempers are flaring -- as they almost always are during a conflict between two people in a relationship.
One of the reasons that I personally have such a hard time effectively managing conflicts that enter into my relationship with my partner is that it is difficult for me to face some of the real problems that exist, and I spend most of my time focusing on the petty incidentals. The above story regarding our recent trip out and the problem of bus fare is a perfect example of this. I have certain rather unfair expectations from my partner that I bring into the relationship, and when I am made aware of this -- usually through my own personal reflection -- I become ashamed, and this manifests itself as anger and sullenness. Conflict management has to begin with honesty, and honesty has to begin with the self. That is, I am only able to effectively manage conflicts when I am honest with myself about what I am feeling and where these feelings once identified are coming from.
Again, the story of the bus clearly illustrates this truth at work in my own personal life. In this instance, the communication led to an automatic realization about the real underlying issue of my anger, and when I was able to be honest with myself and with my partner about the situation it came to a much faster and happier conclusion. It was not really her failure to put the correct change in her pocket that made me angry, but rather my expectation that she would take care of this, and my avoidance of my own responsibility in the issue. That is, I was angry at myself for not having taken care of this, and rather than being angry at myself I decided to be angry at her. This shows some of the root problems of our relationship, especially my tendency to be rather hard on myself and to bring somewhat unreasonable and unfair expectations to my perspective of my partner.
This issue of expectations is found at the root of many conflicts. It is not necessarily that unreasonable or unfair expectations are so common (though they certainly appear to be), but also that many expectations are, like the definition of love, expected to be implicitly understood, when in fact the two people in a relationship could have very different ideas of what is expected in certain situations (Parrott & Parrott 18). Not only does this type of misunderstanding and failed communication often lead to conflict, but a simple discussion in which these expectations are made explicit and in which compromises -- or at the very least understandings -- are reached can resolve many conflicts. Few people in a relationship are trying to make things fail, so conflict almost invariably arise not out of outright failures, but out of simple miscommunication, and this is easily addressed.
Forgiveness and Reconciliation
No matter how effectively a conflict is resolved, there is bound to be some degree of residual feeling left after the anger and upset has passed. These feelings, too, are natural, and it is important to acknowledge them to oneself rather than simply trying to avoid or deny them, as this will only lead to a continuation of the same feelings, making it easier for them to resurface later. In order to fully forgive each other and reconcile the two halves of a relationship, the partners in it must make a huge effort to communicate honestly and openly, and to let issues go once they have been discussed. This does not mean that the same issues might not arise again, of course, but each time a better understanding should lessen the conflict.
It is the forgiveness and reconciliation process that allows this to happen; without it, problems do not really get solved, but instead linger and only grow worse, not better, each time they come up. Chapman points how explicitly how a conflict can become exacerbated when it isn't effectively dealt with:
"Over time, Bill and Debbie [who have had a series of misunderstandings that were never effectively dealt with, and for which each still harbored grudges] may start to internalize their feelings and allow their mutual irritation to become bitterness. They may build an emotional wall between themselves and become cold and distant to one another"
In this scenario, the lack of an effective resolution not only didn't solve the problem, but creates new ones as well.
Extending the metaphor perhaps further than Chapman intended, one can imagine that each conflict lays a stone of the emotional wall being built in a relationship. This requires, strangely enough, a great deal of work. The amount of energy it takes to engage in a conflict with my own partner, I know, is quite large. I tire out more quickly when I remain angry, in addition to being less willing to put what energy I do have into solving the problem and strengthening my relationship. When I internalize my anger and upset instead of expressing myself and dealing with the problems that arise, I often find that I become entirely consumed with these feelings; I am unable to focus on other things, meaning that this method truly drains my energy as well as my ability to perform other tasks.
Proper forgiveness likewise takes its own share of effort -- it can perhaps be though of as removing the stones of the wall laid by conflict. Ultimately, of course, this effort is far more worthwhile, and leads to a happier and more open relationship. In the above-related bus incident, it took a great deal of personal energy for me to calmly say something about the situation, and even more for me to admit my own fault in the situation. This effort was well worth it, however, because it led to a much happier and more relaxed evening for my partner and I, and resolved some past issues by leading to some personal realizations on my part. I realized I had been holding certain grudges based on similar incidents that were equally my own fault, and was able to truly forgive my partner -- and myself, even -- for the past flares of upset that these underlying problems had caused.
Understanding the various roles we attempt to fill in a relationship is highly important in maintaining a happy and solid relationship, as well as in understanding and resolving conflict. We are often unaware that we are attempting to fill these roles, but that doesn't make them any less important (Parrott & Parrott). These roles can also be seen as highly important in the realm of forgiveness. My partner's parents divorced when she was a child, and often didn't speak to each other before this event, so she perceives my silence with a great deal of interpretation. My own parents yelled at each other a lot, which was equally destructive, and my silence is an attempt to avoid this role, instead forcing me into a different trap. This has prevented us from reaching effective reconciliations, but my new understanding will remedy this situation with work.
Chapman, Gary. The World's Easiest Guide to Family Relationships. New York: Northfield, 2001.