One of the inevitable elements of being in relationships is conflict. When you put people together – even two people – for a length of time, sooner or later the people will offend each other in some way. Perhaps only one person will be offended, perhaps both.
The way that the conflict is handled is incredibly important in sustaining a relationship. Sometimes, the cause of the offence is so trivial, it seems foolish to mention it: a storm in a teacup. Other times, the offence is so significant that to remain silent is impossible. Both these types of conflict are usually dealt with quite quickly, and without lasting damage.
Sadly, most types of conflict don’t fit into either category. In this situation, the issues are seldom dealt with immediately, and this is where relationships can begin to be damaged.
Why wouldn’t you immediately jump in and sort out the conflict? This is the idealistic approach, but we fail to take this approach because of the painful awkwardness and conflict that results. “What do you mean [[ cause of conflict ]]? Are you saying I’m [[ some kind of tangent that could possibly be drawn from what you said, but certainly wasn’t what you meant ]]? “
What about seeking mediation? Having some kind of third party sit in and help these kinds of problems from flaring up – to clarify what’s being said; to head towards a resolution to the conflict. Sadly, that often has too much stigma associated with it – “We don’t need some stranger to help us with this”.
What about ‘venting’ to someone else – telling them the problem, and leaving it at that? That makes one person feel better, but doesn’t go anywhere towards solving the problem.
More complex is what to do when someone has shared a problem with us, but doesn’t know how to proceed from there. Do you approach the other party, and try and seek to be the mediator? Do you encourage the other party to take the first step – potentially betraying the confidence of the ‘venter’? Do you encourage the ‘venter’ to solve the problem?
For me, I try to unearth the problems, to be as approachable as I can be, and to hope that people will feel comfortable raising their problems with me. If someone shares something with me, I’ll go as far as I can in keeping their confidence, but still try and encourage them to seek to repair their relationships.