Every now and then, I’ll meet with a couple to discuss divorce mediation just to discover that neither spouse is necessarily seeking a divorce. Recently, I’ve had three such couples. In one consultation, I recall the husband gently putting his hand on his wife’s knee as she tearfully said, “This is so hard because we still love each other.” Another couple both agreed, “We don’t want a divorce but feel like there’s no other choice”. These occasions leave me especially heavy hearted. I have seen first-hand the devastation of divorce even when both spouses seemed certain that it was time to split up. It is difficult to fathom the depth of heartache when neither are convinced the marriage is over. In cases like these, I often remind the couple of the option of filing for legal separation instead of divorce until they are certain of what they want. I also mention the possibility of Conflict Coaching. Many couples can benefit from meeting with a coach who specializes in conflict and communication breakdown. Hearing how we sound and the words we use through the lens of an objective third party can illuminate growth areas and even inject new hope in the relationship. This is not to oversimplify the slow, painful dismantling of a marriage. I understand that years and layers of hurt are not easily overcome. However, if couples are willing to take an honest look at their destructive patterns of relating and take steps to change, in some cases, the results can be dramatic. For couples who aren’t ready to throw in the towel just yet, conflict coaching could be a good next step. Change can be excruciatingly hard work though, so hang on to the towel for wiping away the sweat!
Why are we often gripped by fear when it comes to managing conflict? For many, the answer could be summed up in this simple acronym for FEAR by business consultant, Terry Corbell, – “Frantic Effort to Avoid Responsibility”. We want to avoid owning up to our words and actions, shutting down self-examination that could uncover culpability. We often resist assuming responsibility for any role in the office brouhaha for risk that it will reflect badly on us. So instead, we make excuses, accusations and quick exits. What the primitive “fight or flight” lobe of our brains doesn’t realize is we generally capture the respect of people and gain their confidence when we acknowledge and own our mistakes. In fact, accountability not only can mitigate and defuse conflict, it is a key to increased trust and productivity in the workplace.
Contrary to popular belief, conflict is not the enemy. The truth is, conflict is often the best way to create intimacy and trust between people. Conflict has the ability to generate creativity and fresh energy, strengthen leadership and loyalty, renew morale and motivation, increase productivity and financial stability. Few things accomplish these in life. Conflict also instills a healthy checks-and-balances that promote accountability within families and businesses. In fact, studies show that the most destructive approach to conflict is no approach at all; in other words, avoidance. Yes, conflict can be uncomfortable and sometimes excruciatingly painful but if effectively managed, it is a valuable asset in our private and professional lives. The answer to failing relationships isn’t simply avoiding conflict but rather facing it head on and choosing to manage it. I believe this is a key to healthy and sustainable relationships.
Empowering people and businesses to transform conflict into opportunities for profound growth!