The National Institute on Drug Abuse indicates that stress is one of the most common triggers for relapse, and the stress that inherently results from being in relationships is often a major trigger for recovering addicts. You cannot avoid conflict. It is a part of your life. It occurs when you encounter opposing ideas, desires or expectations. However, you can manage conflict without it interfering with your sobriety. Abiding by the following principles can help. Principles of dealing with conflict include the following:
- Define the problem – Before you begin to dive into a conflict, you need to clearly state what the problem is. What is the source of the conflict? What are you arguing about exactly? You may be talking about two different topics without even realizing it. According to the University of California at Berkley, determining the exact nature of the problem is necessary before you can even begin to solve the problem.
- Ask for clarification – Many conflicts arise because of poor communication according to a 2009 article from the Tech Republic. Before the situation escalates and emotions run high, stop and ask for clarification. Ask questions related to the conversation such as, “Did I hear you say that you wanted me to…” or, “Are you saying that you feel…” Summarize what you think the other person was trying to say and repeat it back to him or her. Often this one summary question will be the catalyst for clarifying expectations or redirecting the conversation. Your conflict may resolve itself if you are both on the same page.
- Own your role in the conflict – When you are in the midst of a conflict, take responsibility for any actions or statements that led to the problem. This is especially important because you likely blamed others and shirked responsibility while you were an active addict. One of the elements of your addiction recovery is to take responsibility for your behavior. Owning your own role in a conflict is an extension of that recovery principle. Those close to you, such as family members and loved ones, will need to hear this as they have already heard your excuses.
- Check your emotions – One reason for conflict is emotions that run amuck. According to a 2012 article from Forbes, letting your emotions drive your decisions often leads to conflict. While you may normally be a rational, level-headed adult, your emotions could turn you into an emotional toddler, throwing a fit of anger in the middle of an otherwise calm situation. When you sense that you are becoming defensive in a conversation, take a mental step back and ask yourself why you are becoming so emotional in this situation. The answer to that question may be the root of the actual problem, not the current conflict.
- Communicate in person – In today’s cyber world, you may be tempted to try to solve a conflict through a series of phone calls, emails or texts. However, according to a 2012 article from Inc., the only way to resolve a situation fully is through a face-to-face conversation. This is the only way you can pay attention to the nonverbal cues that could make or break a dialogue. In digital conversations you cannot hear the other person’s voice, take cues from body language or see their facial expressions. Too many digital messages are easily misinterpreted, so make sure to solve conflicts in person.
- Determine to learn – According to a 2014 article from Psychology Today, changing your attitude about conflict can make a huge difference in your outlook. For example, could you learn from this change? Can you find a positive outcome for yourself? You can make conflict a powerful and productive experience by seeing conflict as an opportunity rather than a heavy burden to avoid.
- Focus on the relationship – When you focus on winning an argument, you are likely to make the situation worse. When being right trumps being respectful, nothing good will result. Keep in mind that you want to develop, deepen and strengthen your relationships with others. Determining to get your way at all costs will damage those relationships.
- Deal with one problem at a time – In a long-term relationship, you are likely to have a history of good times and bad times including past or current disagreements. One mistake common in conflict resolution is issue hopping. This occurs when you start out talking about one problem but bring up other present or past conflicts as a part of the current conversation. This creates a collage of conflict in which you no longer know what you are actually arguing about. Everyone involved ends up frustrated, which only escalates the conflict. Instead deal with one problem at a time. If you have to, say something like, “I understand your point, but that is not the issue at hand. Let’s deal with this ____________ (conflict) first; then we can address this point.”
In general resolving, unavoidable conflicts will require focus and intentionality on your part. You must keep away from the traps of generalization (“you always….”) and clam up. Your ability to resolve conflicts will become stronger as you learn how to deal with them more positively.
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