Episode 133 Is It Conflict Or Contention (1)

Is it Conflict or Contention?

Episode 133 – Is it Conflict or Contention?

Conflict is inevitable in relationships, but contention is not. What do you do when you find yourself in conflict with a member of your family? The way you view them and you will determine if you’re escalating into contention. In this episode, I review the Gottman Institute’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Each of these horseman are red flags that you’re relationship is heading (or already is) in a contentious state.

Full Transcript


Welcome to The Coaching Your Family Relationships Podcast, where we work on you.


My name is Tina Gosney, your host, as well as your family relationship coach, and positive relationship strategist.


When we make peace with what’s happening inside of you, you’ll begin to find the peace you’re looking for in your family relationships. Let’s get started.


Hey, welcome back to the podcast today, I’m so glad you’re here. If you’re a first time listener, then a special welcome to you. So glad that you decided to click on this episode. And to get some help with your communication, I decided to do an episode on communication, because so often that is where we’re getting tripped up, we are getting really having a lot of issues and communicating in a really effective, helpful way. And I really wanted to give some help with that today, we’re going to talk about how to move through conflict in a way that’s helpful to a relationship, rather than damaging a relationship.


You know, so many of us want to just avoid conflict, we don’t want to see that anything is wrong, and we want to just brush it under the rug, or we want to attack it and put it into it. But you know what conflict is not bad. And we shouldn’t be avoiding it. The thing that we need to be careful of is contention. Conflict is inevitable. We live with somebody, there’s going to be a time where we don’t agree on something. And that’s probably going to happen quite often. But we don’t have to let it move into contention.


Conflict is just alerting us to something that feels not right. Something that we are bothered by something that’s not right in the relationship, maybe in ourself. But how we deal with that conflict can be productive or could be destructive. Conflict is inevitable. contention is not we need to learn how to allow conflict and work productively through conflict. But avoid contention. So what is the difference between conflict and contention? I think there’s one really main difference, one really big red flag. And that is shame. Shame is involved. Shame says something like there’s something wrong with me, or there’s something wrong with you. That’s what contention is. There’s a shame component that underlies the whole narrative and communication efforts. So anytime shame is involved, that’s a big red flag, if we’re putting the problem inside ourself, and we’re viewing ourselves as the problem, or if we’re putting the problem inside the other person and saying you are the problem, we are bringing contention into their relationship. And we’re we’re just bypassing conflict, we’re just going straight into contention.


Now, not every relationship that we have, is one that we want to try to stay in and to work through conflict. If you think about it, there’s three main types of relationships, there’s a relationship that we have, for a moment in time, this might be the person checking you out at the store, or the person driving next to you on the highway. You have a relationship with those people, however small that relationship is, there’s a relationship there. And there’s a possibility for conflict.


In fact, a couple of years ago, my husband and I were driving up north in the mountains, where we live, we saw two cars in front of us that their conflict turned into contention and it was very ugly. And we were actually really worried that someone was going to end up hurt, seriously hurt. And that’s a that’s a perfect example of conflict turning into contention. So there’s the relationships we have for a moment in time.


There’s the relationships that we have for a season in our life. Maybe your child’s teacher, or your neighbor, the person that lives next door to you. We have relationships with these people, very easy again, to move into conflict, do we let it go into contention?


Then there’s the relationships that we have for a lifetime, our family relationships, lifelong friends, those are the relationships that when we find conflict, we want to make sure that it’s not going into contention. Because we if we want to keep that lifelong relationship, contention is going to kill it. Contention is going to make it miserable to be in that lifelong relationship.


So there might be some times where we just want to let conflict exist, and we don’t try to resolve it. And it’s just fine, we just go our separate ways. But then there’s other times where we need to address the conflict, we want to try to avoid, again, letting it move into contention. So depending on the relationship, when conflict shows up, maybe you want to walk away, maybe you want to move towards it, if the relationship is not a close one, or one that you plan on continuing, there’s probably not a need to hash everything out. If the relationship is one that is important to you, and you want to work on the conflict, going towards it and not avoiding it and sweeping it under the rug can be something that is worth pursuing.


And as I work with my coaching clients, we even see that when we have conflict, it’s not always something that we need to move towards. There is a process that I take my clients through, when we’re when we’re addressing conflict, to see, is this something that I want to address? Or is this something that I’m going to do something else about? So that’s something that’s a process that I work through with my clients. But for the sake of this podcast, we’re going to just go forward in addressing the conflict.


So why do we have conflict? What does conflict look like? It can often look like a tug of war, our brains love to be right, the other person’s brain loves to be right. And we’re both pulling on our desire to be right and control the situation, or trying to get the other person to agree with us to give in or to admit that we’re right. And lots of times we do this in very destructive ways. When we get into that tug of war, there’s really no winners, there’s only losers in the game. In the moment, if you get the other person to agree with you, it might feel like you’ve won. But if that if you pulled so hard, that then they collapsed, you have now sacrificed something more long term, you’ve sacrificed a very big piece of the relationship, it came at a very big cost, you might not see it right away. But I promise you that cost is there.


It’s very human nature ish of us to want to have the other people that were close to in our lives, think the same things that we do agree with us be similar in the way that we want to live. And the way that we want to deal with problems in our lives, are to agree with us on important topics. But if we really, really look at a lot of the problems that we think are problems, many problems in our lives are not solvable. Many conflicts that we have in our lives with other people are not solvable. So how do we handle the conflict that arises? When we encounter one of those unsolvable problems? Or even a solvable problem? How do we not let them go to contention?


I’ll give you some scenarios and see if you have ever encountered any of these in your life. So maybe you’re in a situation you or the other person gets upset. Words are said, feelings are hurt, there’s no resolution. You go your separate ways, and you just let time go by you don’t come back and ever really work out the problem, you just let it kind of fizzle and fade in a way it gets swept under the rug, and you just don’t ever go back and talk about it again. And then the same problem, or a similar problem might pop up again,


And you repeat this pattern the next time. You never come to a resolution and you sweep it under the rug, then, you know, eventually sweeping things under the rug, you have a big giant pile under the rug. You start tripping over it, you can’t even do anything without tripping over that pile that’s under the rug. So that situation number one, does that sound familiar to you?


Situation number two, typical situation number two. Let’s just say you get upset at someone. You don’t talk to that person how you feel. You just get upset. And you go and talk to everybody else how you feel about what happened about what this person said how they treated you, how they acted, the things that they said. And these other people agree with you? Oh, yes, that person is being totally unreasonable. Poor you. I’m so sorry. And you get validation from other people. And they say yeah, that person’s wrong. They need to change, how dare they say or do that to you. And then you start to see this other person through a very negative perspective and they become a villain. And then you start to see more things that you don’t like about them, and then the problem becomes the person. The problem isn’t the problem. The problem is the person. And the only way for things to be better is to either cut them out of your life or for that person to change. Does this sound familiar to you? Have you ever been in that type of situation?


Typical situation number three, someone in your family comes to you. And they want to talk to you about something that has been bothering them. Maybe the way they do it, just trigger something and you ignite some defensiveness in you. And you get upset and you start telling them how wrong they are, how much they have hurt you. You turn it around on them, you try to deflect the conversation away from the original topic, then the other person gets defensive. And you both start hurling accusations back and forth. And there’s no resolution. Have you ever had that happen?


Do you relate to any of these scenarios? Most people I’ve talked to have had one or all of those scenarios happen in their family. What I’ve gone through and demonstrated through these different scenarios are the Gottman’s four horsemen of the apocalypse.


Now, if you’ve been listening to this podcast in the past, you’ve probably heard me talk about the goblins from the Gottman Institute in Washington. And you’ve probably heard me talk about the four horsemen of the apocalypse. They identify these four horsemen that I’m going to go through today as a really big red flags in relationships that signified the deconstruction, the downward spiral of a relationship. Even though I’ve talked about this before, I’m going to do it again. And I’m going to do it in a different way. Because I don’t think that we can talk about this too much, and see it in different with different perspectives.


At any given time, I think that’s helpful for us to look at it in different ways. And to maybe apply these into how we have conversations with each other, and how we have the conversations going on in our own minds. Because many times we have more conversations going on in our own mind, than we do with another person. So those are ways that we need to address as well.


The first horse of the apocalypse is criticism. And you can’t live with somebody without having complaints about them. It’s just not possible. Complaints are normal, not agreeing on how to do things, or what things should look like, or how to divide up labor, or the work of the of a household or anything isn’t. It’s not possible for us to agree on everything. We’re going to have complaints about people. But complaints and criticism are two different things. Here’s the difference. Complaint addresses the problem.


It says something like, for instance, “Hey, you told me last night that you’re going to fill up the car with gas before you came home. Did you forget because the car’s empty this morning. Now I’m gonna have to stop on my way to work and fill it up and I could possibly be late. Would it be helpful for me to remind you next time, would that help you out if I sent you a reminder to fill up the car before he came home?”


That’s a complaint. And that’s telling you, oh, hey, remember you were going to do this? This is what I need from you? And how can how can we help each other out the next time?


Here’s what criticism would look like it looks at the person as the problem rather than the problem as the problem. So it might look something like this. “You know what, you didn’t fill up the car with gas, like you said you would last night. So now I’m going to be late to work because I have to do it. I knew I couldn’t count on you to do it.” Do you see how that person became the problem instead of the problem is the problem?


We all fall into this trap of criticism. Sometimes the goal isn’t to never criticize, because that’s probably an impossible goal. But it’s to recognize, oh, I’m being critical. I’m criticizing. And then when we recognize it to go make repairs, to go back and say “Hey, can we do that over again? I’m sorry, I didn’t say that in the way that I wanted to.” Or “I’m sorry, I did not mean to hurt you. Can we try that again?”


It’s can be really hard to make repairs, right? We have to be willing to put ourselves on the line to let the other person know, hey, I made a mistake. It puts us in a vulnerable position.


We don’t like to be vulnerable. Our brain say, Nope, no vulnerability that is dangerous, even with our closest relationships our brain still wants to avoid. So we have to remember to remind our brain Nope, this person is not the problem, I am not the problem, I can be vulnerable. And I can say I was wrong. When we do that, it helps us to avoid contention. And it helps us to own our own stuff, we clean up our own side of the street, right, we’re not relying on somebody else to clean up our own side of the street.


The second horse in the apocalypse is contempt. What is contempt that looks like globally attacking someone’s character, you have this sense of superiority over the other person. It’s a really big form of disrespect. And it’s very easy when we have contempt in our relationships, to go into a one up position to think I am better than you. And when we go into a one-up position, it’s so often coming from a place of lack within ourselves, we need to make ourselves feel better by putting ourselves above somebody else, this ego position that we have. Let’s contrast that with a one down position, which is also coming from a sense of lack within ourselves. Those are two the one up the one down positions. Those are two sides of the same coin, even though it’s really hard to see that at first. They can be two sides of the same. I don’t feel good about myself coin.


So contempt can look like sarcasm, cynicism, eye rolling, mocking language, hostile humor, it conveys disgust. And it’s really virtually impossible to resolve conflict when one person is disgusted with the other person. We don’t usually feel disgust for another person without having negative thoughts about them for a while. We don’t just like all of a sudden, start having disgust for someone when we haven’t already been thinking negative thoughts about them. It’s not something disgust is not something we usually start out with. We usually let the negative thoughts come in and then we let them simmer. We might even feed them. And then sometimes we even turn up the heat on them. And we let them boil over and that is when conflict turns into contention.


Third horsemen is defensiveness. I just did a whole podcast episode. Last month on defensiveness episode 132. You can go listen to that if you want a whole podcast on defensiveness. But what does it look like? While it’s you turning it around? And blaming the other person says, The problem isn’t me. It’s you.


So when we become defensive, we become the innocent victim, which says to the other person, “Why are you picking on me? What about all the good things I do? You’re never going to be happy with me. I just can’t ever make you happy with me. I’m not perfect. What do you want from me?”


It’s not willing to look at what the other person is saying. Not willing to again, be vulnerable, and being invalidated by somebody else’s experience of us. We refuse to see how that they’re right. Or even acknowledge that their experience of us is valid for them.


Do you know who Dr. Becky Kennedy is, if you don’t know who she is, I suggest you get to know her. She’s all over the place where I the things that I follow online. She’s all over the place. Now I’ve been actually following her for a few years, she wrote a book called Good inside. And this book is an amazing, awesome book, I gave it to one of my kids, because she’s got kids of her own. And I thought this would be so helpful to have as a young parent to just start off in your child’s life with these concepts and develop these skills. So I gave it to her and then she’s let her friends and other family members borrow it. And so now it’s like everybody’s buying their own copies.


Anyway, I suggest following Dr. Becky Kennedy, one of the things that she talks about is how we are each having our own experience of a situation. We can be standing in the room with other people, but each of us is having a different experience. That includes our children, that includes our parents. So whether your children are 5 or 50, each one of them are having their own experience. No one is having the same experience as anybody else. When someone else is telling us their experience, and it challenges something inside of us. And maybe we’re feeling defensive, right maybe we feel accused of something that we didn’t do. Or maybe what they’re saying to us is bringing up some some form of shame in us, however challenging that is to look at within ourselves.


That person is telling us their experience. And when we say, No, you’re wrong. What we’re really saying is “You can’t trust your own experience.” And so when we tell them they’re wrong, we’re telling them that we don’t believe them. And that we are not trustworthy enough to be able to handle their experience, because we can’t handle ourself in the face of invalidation.


To listen to what someone else says, doesn’t mean you agree with them. To validate their experience as valid for them, does not mean that you’re admitting fault. Or agreeing with them. It’s saying, “I hear you, I believe this is true for you.”


Now, there’s going to be room for another point of view later. But in that moment, that person needs for someone to listen. And to not be told they shouldn’t trust their own experience of the world. And when you can do this for someone else, you can create more trust and safety in a relationship. The other person is much more likely at that point to let down their can their defenses. And it will not go to contention, this conversation will not go to contention. Because you’re not driving it, you’re not driving the shame.


This is not easy, for sure. But I want you to give it a try. If you’re up for the challenge, give it a try. See what happens. You might really stink at this at first. Especially if you’re really good at being defensive, it might be really difficult. And you might not do a very good job of letting the defensiveness down. But like a lot of other things, this is a skill that you develop over time. You develop a skill by doing it and practicing it over and over again. So if you’re up to the challenge, give it a try.


The fourth and final Horseman is withdrawing, stonewalling. I did another episode on withdrawing recently, and that was just a few weeks ago, Episode 130. So if you want a whole episode on withdrawing, go listen to that one. This is when we shut the other person out. We don’t just have walls up to protect our view of ourselves like we do with defensiveness, we have stopped engaging, we have turned away from the person and from the relationship. It says “I’m giving up.”


It’s not usually our first go to. In fact, this is usually a last resort effort to protect ourselves when the other strategies that we’ve been trying to do and trying to use have not been working. And so this is like a final move to protect ourselves. I’m just going to remove myself from their relationship. Think about if we’re still in conflict, trying to work things out. Even if that looks pretty bad. We’re at least still invested in trying to get something to work in their relationship. When we get to this point of stonewalling and shutting down, disengaging, withdrawing, this is usually the last sign before the end of a relationship. I’m not saying their relationship will end I’m just saying that it’s a very big red flag. If you’re withdrawing and stonewalling, that there are some serious problems in the relationship.


So what can we do with these four horsemen? If you’ve seen yourself in anything that I’ve said today? What can you do? First, just ask yourself where you see these horsemen showing up in yourself, or in your relationship? Because awareness is the first step. Once we see something, once we start to pay attention to something, it begins to change, it can’t stay the same. We put our attention on something and that thing begins to change. I don’t know how it’s going to change at first, it depends on what you do with the next step.


But the next step is to begin applying curiosity and compassion to whatever you find. Curiosity and compassion are our tools that I use in my coaching clients all the time. These are two very important skills and words that we talk about all the time.


So here’s some questions to ask yourself. Which one of these horsemen do I want to work on right now? If I were going to be curious and compassionate with myself and the other person, what would be different? Even if I’m trying to be curious and compassionate with them? And they don’t respond the way that I want them to? How do I stay committed to being curious and compassionate?


Thank you for being here today. I will see you next time. If you’re finding value here on this podcast, please consider hopping on to Apple podcasts or Spotify and leave a rating maybe even a review your ratings and reviews help other people to find this podcast. Thank you for taking time to do this and for your support