To feel closer in your relationships, stop avoiding conflict. Here are the rules of engagement.
What does it mean to be a man?
In the old model of manhood, the John Wayne version, men ask themselves what they are willing to die for. You define your manhood by this question and your answer to it. But the new model of manhood requires an even more demanding question – What are you willing to live for?
In the old model, you are stoic and separate and solitary. But in the new model, you fully embrace your aliveness. It is one thing to discover whether you will act with courage in war, but what about living with that same kind of courage in your everyday life? When survival is not at stake can we choose with heart the path that challenges us? In the new model of manhood, you need to be willing to fully own your fear, your hurt, your anger. Rather than pretending things don’t matter, you let things get to you; you let life matter.
In the old model, you “go off and earn a living for the family” and throw the money over the wall as you drive by. But in the new model, you are integrated with your family, friends, and relationships. You matter to them and they matter to you. This choice, which is a daily moment-by-moment choice, demands much more of you, if you are honest about it. Expanding your capacity to be fully alive and trust, to go deeply in relationship with others, to be affirming, that is risky.
To take full responsibility for your experience in life and to consciously intend the outcomes of your life, to not give in to drama or victimhood, means stepping into conflict and discomfort. The problem is that most of us were never trained about how to do this successfully. Our typical response is to avoid conflict or to irresponsibly put on our tough guy John Wayne persona and go in with guns blazing.
But to get ahead in your career, to have great relationships with your kids or family, to successfully partner with others, you need skills. Whether you are in a business meeting or at home with your spouse, you need to give your conflict skills a good workout. Here are three rules of engagement that can help you use conflict to get closer to those you care about and have more success in your life.
Rule of Engagement #1: No one gets more than 50 percent of the blame.
Like it or not, we all play a part in any dynamic of our relationship; it takes two to tango! You may start an argument, but your partner may be the one who responded counter-productively, exacerbating the discord. You are always a participant in the drama or upset, even if the other person is working something through.
Perhaps you fail to communicate what you want, or actively bait the other person, or don’t set limits, or nag rather than constructively act. Perhaps your partner engages in these ways.
No matter who instigates the argument or makes a situation difficult, you and the other person are a part of a system, and whatever happens in the relationship, you both have a part in it. So, when you find yourself assigning blame, remind yourself that the highest percentage of blame you can assign is 50 percent.
Rule #2: You need to take 100 percent responsibility for your happiness and satisfaction.
It is not someone else’s responsibility to make you happy.
It is yours alone, though, of course, we should support the people in our life. If you want something different, it is up to you to make it happen. What do you yearn for? What is it that you truly want? How do you want your relationship to be? What outcome do you desire?
Here’s a hint: nagging, blaming, complaining, or demanding without being in rapport are not what it takes to change things and to make you happy. All of these are irresponsible actions.
Progress is made by persistence and priorities, not single actions. Continually share what matters to you and engage fully and responsibly to develop more clarity, understanding, and movement.
Rule #3: Express and agree with the truth, always.
Too often, conflict or fights go on and on with a great deal of truth being said on both sides, but neither you nor the other person acknowledges it.
Remarkably, many fights or conflicts end when one person acknowledges the truth of what the other one is saying, because the truth is often what the person is fighting for — they yearn to be affirmed.
A rule of thumb: verbally acknowledge any time your partner says something that is true — even when you are mad and don’t want to give him or her the satisfaction, if not immediately, then as soon as you recognize it.
Sure, it pains you to not press your point. It may even make you look bad. Still, break the logjam and acknowledge the truth of what the other person is saying.
Good words to use include the following: “You’re right;” “Good point;” “Hadn’t thought of it that way;” “I see your point;” or even a begrudging acknowledgement of the truth, “Screw you, do you have to be so righteous when you are right?” “Your point is right on, but I sure as hell don’t like your patronizing tone;” or “Damn it, you’re right, and I don’t want to give you the satisfaction of acknowledging it. I’m still too mad at you.”
By the same token, admit when you are wrong.
Are you big enough to recognize what’s right in what your partner is saying? An enormous amount of good will can be won by focusing on the truth and being willing to lose a fight, affirming not only the truth in what the other person is saying, but also the superiority of the other person’s point or feeling.
Losing is winning in this case. It’s the truth that sets you free.
The new model of manhood does not mean being a wimp. The new model of manhood means courageously engaging in conflict, but also learning to be responsible, to acknowledge feelings, to let the aliveness of life flow through you.
It means risking in relationships, not because you are willing to die for them, but because you are willing to live for them.