How To Transform Conflict – Part 1

As a global peace negotiator, John Paul Lederach uses four principles that bring about what he calls “conflict transformation”. His approach is to use conflict to create real and lasting changes. “Reconciliation is not to quickly forgive and forget, as if it never happened or we somehow are gifted with a form of amnesia,” he writes in his book, Reconcile: Conflict Transformation for Ordinary Christians. “Reconciliation requires that we remember and change, but with honesty about our experience and curiosity about the humanness of the other whom we fear.”

During a divorce you might want to put as much emotional and physical distance as possible between yourself and your soon-to-be-ex-spouse. You may move to a different neighborhood, make new friends, take a different job, or change grocery stores just to avoid running into your ex. For this reason, Lederach’s first principle, “Develop the capacity to imagine yourself in a web of relationships that includes your enemies,” may seem impossible. And yet, it could be easier than you think.

“Peace-building requires that people be able to envision their inter-connectedness and mutuality,” explains Michelle Maiese, Ph.D., associate professor of philosophy at Emmanuel College. “As people acknowledge their relational inter-dependency and recognize themselves as part of the pattern, they may be able to envision a wider set of relationships and take personal responsibility for their own choices and behavior.”

In other words, you don’t have to embrace the people who tick you off, or even send them a holiday card. You only have to acknowledge that they play a role in your life.

For example, accepting the fact that you and your ex will continue to co-parent your children after your divorce is final may help you consider a new outlook on your relationship. You may not agree on anything else, but you might find common ground in the care and nurturing of your kids. (Read: Worth a Thousand Words)

If you don’t have children together, you might “imagine” that your soon-to-be-ex played a role that will lead you to a happier stage in your life. She might not have been the soul mate you hoped she’d be, but perhaps someday you’ll come to appreciate that the failed relationship showed you what was really important.

Ultimately, accepting the relationship for what it is instead of resenting your ex for what it was not may help you let go of anger and resentment, which (in turn) will make you feel better. (Read: For Better or Worse) Whether you’re bickering with your ex-spouse or feuding with family members, taking this first step in conflict transformation allows you to begin to move beyond fixed ideas about your relationship. This principle readies you for the second step towards new — and more harmonious — possibilities.

Next week: Part 2: Get Curious, Not Furious