a couple holding hands at a table with dishes of food, resolving conflict

Conflict in relationships is unfortunately unavoidable. But how we get through said conflict is a skill we can try to develop. Here are my thoughts on how to get better at resolving conflict.

Consider the last argument or disagreement you had with a loved one

During that emotionally charged conversation, did you find yourself creating a case in your head for why the person you were arguing with was wrong? 

Were you more focused on making a mental note of all the ways you could prove to that person how and why you were right? 

Or maybe you were on the opposite end of that scenario and, while sharing your thoughts or opinion, could tell the person you were talking to wasn’t actually listening to you. 

Maybe they jumped in at every little pause or opening in the conversation to give advice or explain how you were wrong. 

These kinds of interactions tend to provoke feelings of frustration, bitterness, and a sense of isolation, right? 

And yet, we’ve all been there. 

When we’re younger, we usually learn how not to talk over someone. 

But how many of us have learned how to stop “thinking over” someone?

I hate to admit it, but sometimes when I’m in an argument with my wife, I may look like I’m listening… when in reality, I’m only thinking about how I’ll retaliate or looking for what she’s missed or how I need to correct what she’s saying. In essence, I’m focused only on myself and my own thoughts and feelings. 

In those moments, I’m not really present with her. I’m not actually listening to her. 

I may not be talking over her, but I’m definitely thinking over her. 

The two roles during communication

This is where something called mindful communication can help. 

Practicing mindful communication provides a way for us to stop thinking over someone, but it requires a slowing down of the process of communication. 

For instance, there are essentially two roles occurring at any given moment during communication with another person: the listening role and the talking (or expressing) role. 

It’s really important that you’re doing one OR the other! Because when you try to do both at the same time, you end up doing neither. If you choose to pay attention to your own thoughts and feelings, you can’t simultaneously pay attention to the other person. 

Mindful awareness of the present moment allows us to encounter reality for what it is, rather than how we interpret it to be through the filter of our own false narratives, assumptions, criticisms, and interpretations.

So when the present moment includes another person – with his or her own thoughts and feelings – then mindful awareness becomes foundational to truly encountering the other person as he or she really is.

This is the key to mindful communication 

Grounded in the anthropology of Pope St. John Paul II, this kind of communication is composed of both empathy and something he refers to as “tenderness,” which essentially means communicating to the other person that you are empathizing with them. 

It’s also the kind of communication we use in our model of daily accompaniment (IDDM).

Using a voice messaging app, we slow down the conversation, spreading it out over the week, and break it into two parts (listening and speaking) in an ongoing, daily dialogue.

It’s a modality that allows us to carefully listen to what our clients share, to enter into their story, and then to thoughtfully respond. 

Why is this so important? 

Because, on some level, we all want to be known.

We have an innate human desire to communicate ourselves outwards and to be received – to be known – by another person. And one of the deepest wounds most people carry in their lives is the pain of not being known.

This is what it is to be human. This is the foundation for relationship. 

In order to be known, though, the other person has to be paying attention to us. (And likewise, in order to know another person, we have to be paying attention to them.)

This is why mindfulness in general, and mindful communication in particular, is so deeply, radically important. 

When we can turn away from what’s happening in our own mind and enter into another’s experience (whatever may be going on there), and then communicate to them that we’re there with them – that we feel/see/know and are receiving what they’re trying to communicate? 

That’s tenderness, and tenderness will develop unity and a sense of communion.

This act of entering into another person’s experience (and having them enter into yours) can serve as the starting point for resolving even the worst conflicts.

the mindful Catholic

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