It’s ironic that professionally, I help other people resolve conflict, yet in my personal life, I am decidedly conflict averse.  Despite my attempts to avoid them, when I find myself getting sucked into an argument, I push back, defend myself, and go to the “I’m right – you’re wrong” neighborhood, which is a pretty sketchy place to live.  

I decided it was time for me to do some research about arguing, so I talked to a psychologist, a marriage and family therapist and, of course, the internet.  The conclusions I reached were eye-opening, and the benefits were surprising.

My colleague, Lindsay, who is a psychologist, was adamant in her position that when we argue, we are creating an awareness of the other person’s perspective.  (Right, Lindsay.  On what planet?)  

Sylvia, the marriage and family therapist, told me that what we argue about directly relates to what’s important to us, and to who we are as partners.  (So, not emptying the dishwasher is indicative of something deeper?)

Here’s my takeaway:

First, I need to become more sensitive to the timing.  Am I emotionally ready to argue?  Or are my emotions bubbling over at that moment?  Am I hungry? Tired?  Do these factors contribute to my inability to listen to my partner in order to understand him?

Second, I need to look at conflict differently.  (Again, ironic for a mediator who specializes in conflict resolution.)  My goal is to see the conflict not as a threat, but as a learning experience about my relationship and about myself.

Third, I need to become more flexible and more open to change without feeling like I’m caving simply to end the conflict.  That’s a difficult one for me, and I suspect it is for a lot of people who, like me, are inherently resistant to change.   Focusing on the difference between simply giving in and arriving at a meaningful compromise is key here.  And a lot more difficult than these words suggest.

Fourth, I need to recognize that we are both vulnerable.  We have character traits that have been renting space in our brains for decades, some good and some not so good.  I want to get better at communicating my own vulnerability to my partner so that he can think about and appreciate my perspective.  And I want to do the same for him.

Fifth, I need to give more serious thought to my partner’s needs as well as my own so that we can figure out what we need together in order to nurture and grow our relationship.

I keep circling back to my divorce mediation practice, and how many times I’ve told my clients to keep their spirit of compromise at the forefront.  I even outright state that I don’t expect either of them to be happy with the final outcome but rather, to be accepting of it so that they are better able to move forward, to put away their rear-view mirrors, and find joy.

Physician, heal thyself.