Birmingham AL Collaborative Divorce Law Blog

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

How to Transform Conflict Part 4: Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone

Conflict happens. Even in the best relationships, you’re going to disagree from time to time, but how you respond to conflict determines whether the discourse becomes hurtful or helpful.

According to John Gottman, Ph.D. best-selling author and executive director of the Relationship Research Institute, 69% of conflict in relationships is about unresolvable, perpetual problems. But not all conflict is a “bad” thing. “In order to get to a healthier and more productive place, we need to give up our fear of conflict, turmoil and resistance,” Gottman says.

The final step in the process of transforming conflict requires consciously moving beyond your typical responses and having an open mind and heart. This requires courage and may feel risky. But peace expert John Paul Lederach contends that this aspect of conflict transformation is crucial. “To take a risk is to step into the unknown without any guarantee of success or safety.” he writes. “For many people caught in conflict, violence is known, and peace is a mystery.”

Birmingham’s own history provides us with a powerful example of how stepping into the unknown can lead to lasting change.

During the Civil Rights Movement, at a time when hatred-fueled violence was rampant (especially in the South), many thought it was necessary to either fight back or hide. But Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had different and radical idea: Non-violent resistance. Civil Rights activists didn’t just show up in the streets with signs. They committed to the nonviolent process, spent time learning about the challenges they might face, and were trained to protect themselves against physical and verbal abuse while not fighting back.

Protestors who staged sit-ins at racially segregated lunch counters had to be willing to step outside their comfort zones and risk persecution, even death. Of course desegregation didn’t happen overnight, but through this non-violent approach, the conflict was indeed transformed.

Here are three ways to apply these nonviolent tactics to conflicts in our everyday lives.

  1. Be Prepared. Knee jerk reactions fan the flames of aggression. If you are in a contentious relationship, why not prepare for how you will respond if and when your ex confronts you? Taking a page from nonviolent training, you might even ask a friend to role play with you in order to practice remaining calm no matter what is said. Develop a “mantra” or “I statement” to repeat no matter how difficult the interaction becomes. (For example, “I only want what’s best for our children.”)
  2. Pause Before You Act. Texting and email communication may seem passive ways to express yourself, but often make matters worse. Resist the urge to communicate when you’re angry. If your ex picks a fight via text or email, walk away from the computer or put down the phone rather than becoming embroiled in a heated battle of e-words. Allow hateful calls to go unanswered. Remember, silence speaks volumes — and can save your peace of mind.
  3. Gather Strength. Listening to your ex’s complaints without reacting may take every ounce of strength in your body. There’s no reason to go it alone, but be smart about who you involve in family disputes. A skilled family lawyer, priest, therapist or mediator can provide moral support and a safe haven for airing grievances. Communication with your ex should never involve putting yourself in harm’s way. First and foremost, take care of yourself by getting the professional assistance you need.


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