Conflict is an inevitable part of life. There’s nothing inherently wrong with people wanting different things but not knowing how to resolve conflict effectively can lead to stress, arguments, and strained relationships. If you’re recovering from a substance use disorder, the stress of interpersonal conflict may trigger cravings. Conflicts can also alienate you from your base of sober support. Resolving conflict is a great skill for recovery and for life. With a little practice, it can significantly reduce your stress. Here are some tips for resolving conflict effectively.
First, understand that anything you say or do while angry is likely to make matters worse. One effect of the fight-or-flight response is to narrow your range of options. When you’re trying to resolve conflict, you need your thinking to be more open and flexible. Start calming yourself down by taking a few slow, deep breaths with a long exhale. This activates your rest-and-digest system and helps you think more clearly.
The thing that sets you off may just be the last problem, not the real problem. Stress tends to accumulate throughout the day, making people more irritable and short-tempered. After a particularly stressful day at work, you may end up arguing with your spouse about whose turn it is to do the dishes or something equally trivial. If you’re putting all your energy into resolving the dishes problem, you’re probably wasting your time. Take a moment to reflect and figure out what the problem really is. If you’ve started an argument for no good reason, apologize and move on.
Typically, when we get into some kind of conflict, we’re stuck in our own perspective. Our frustrations are often a result of tacit assumptions about how others should treat us and the belief that if someone acts contrary to our wishes, then it’s a personal insult. Usually, people are just trying to make the best decisions they can under the circumstances. Everyone makes mistakes and they aren’t usually intended to cause you harm. Before you get into an argument, think about how the situation might look from the other person’s perspective.
When actually discussing the problem, stick to the issue at hand. Don’t bring in other problems or past problems. Certainly don’t resort to personal attacks or generalizations such as “You always do things like this.” Have some idea of what kind of outcome you would like and before you say anything, ask yourself if it’s conducive to that outcome.
When actually discussing the problem, state it as clearly as you can. A good strategy is often to focus on your own perception. For example, if you have a friend who’s always drinking around you even though he knows you’re in recovery and you’ve asked him not to, you might say something like, “I’ve asked you several times not to drink around me and you did it again last night. When you do that, I feel like you either don’t take my substance use issue seriously or that you don’t want me to stay sober.” This focuses on how your friend’s behavior affects you rather than making assertions about his intentions.
Once you’ve stated the problem as you see it, give the other person a chance to respond. Listen carefully, with an open mind, and try to understand their position. Many conflicts result from misunderstandings and clearing these up may solve the problem entirely. If resolving a misunderstanding doesn’t resolve the conflict, at least you better understand the other person’s concerns and you have better information for finding a solution.
Willingness to compromise is often the key to resolving conflict. If you and the other person are clear about wanting different things, it’s unlikely one person is going to win over the other person completely. And if you do get your way every time, it will likely lead to resentment. Sometimes you just have to compromise. It’s hardly fair to expect the other person to give up something if you’re unwilling to give up something too. It often helps to know what you want from an outcome and why you want it. In the example above, does it bother you more if your friend doesn’t seem to take your sobriety seriously or that his drinking sometimes makes you crave alcohol? The answer may affect what kind of compromise you make.
Finally, be willing to forgive and forget once the conflict has been resolved in some way. Often, conflict resolution is more about preserving the relationship than reaching some perfect outcome. It’s hard to have good relationships with people if you’re constantly holding onto resentments over past arguments. If the conflict was with someone you never want to see again, holding onto resentment over the outcome will only make you unhappy and make sobriety more challenging. Once the conflict is behind you, let it go and move on.
Interpersonal conflict is the main source of stress for most people and learning to deal with it effectively is a great skill for recovery. Like many recovery skills, conflict resolution can’t be learned entirely in the classroom; it takes practice in the real world. A sober companion from Hired Power can help you apply the lessons you learned in treatment to the real-life challenges you face in recovery. For more information about sober companions and other services, call us at 714-559-3919
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