Mind Matters: Explore, cope with conflict

Trouble and relationships go hand in hand. Not only are romantic relationships prone to conflict; any and all are susceptible. Can anyone say they’ve never had a disagreement with a friend, relative, supervisor, coworker or employee? Anyone who can make such a claim is either nice to the point of saintliness or has very superficial connections with people, because it’s human to experience differences.

The thrust of this article is to explore sources of conflict and discuss possible coping strategies. Harville Hendrix, author of “Getting the Love You Want,” written for couples, claims that conflict provides opportunities for personal growth. Any conflict can either be destructive or instructive. It’s up to the parties involved to choose.

Conflict in relationships is inevitable because we are all different and do not see things in the same way. Neither do we respond in the same ways. What irritates one may be a source of excitement to another. Close relationships with the most frequent contact are most prone to differences and disagreement simply because the more time we spend with someone the better we get to know them. The closer we grow to someone the more likely we are to find what we dislike about them.

When we disagree with someone what should we do? Disagreement need not lead to conflict. One of the reasons it does is because most of us believe, whether we realize it or not, that our opinions are the only right ones. We like our ideas and feel good about them so think everyone should espouse them. When people don’t we feel hurt, rejected and/or angry, and get into a contest over whose views are correct. We take others’ different opinions personally, as if we must be defective. Of course this isn’t one hundred percent true but is a major cause of interpersonal conflict.

A different point of view could be enlightening. If we stop and think, in reality there exist as many views, opinions, and preferences as there are individuals. Each person is entitled to his/her view. The secret is that if we just respect and try to understand each other and let go of judging and evaluating we would have no need to compete with each other as to who is right, wrong, smart or otherwise. In fact we quite possibly would be much more open to new learning. An open mind leads to an open heart and expands our understanding of each other.

Imagine for a moment a world where each individual is able to stretch beyond the narrow confines of his/her upbringing, is willing and able to ask with compassion why so-and-so acts in certain ways. Such a world would be alive with people who are vitally interested and curious about everything and everyone. Life would be so exciting war and all conflict would be meaningless. We would all be sharing what we know and have. Our outlook would be expansive and joyful. Of course this sounds utopian but perhaps we can all try a little harder to be more tolerant of others’ differences; every little bit makes the world a better place.


Elinor Stanton is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner on Marco Island. She has 30 years of experience as a therapist, in private practice and with a large health maintenance organization in Boston. She graduated from Boston College and University of Rochester, and is certified as a clinical specialist by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Elinor is trained in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and is a certified Imago Relationship Therapist. She welcomes requests for professional assistance with a variety of troubling issues, including mood disorders, trauma, anxiety, panic and phobias as well as marital problems. Comments and questions are welcome and may be submitted by e-mail to: etseven@aol.com or telephone 394-2861.

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