Eva and Holger have been a couple for a long time. There were times when Holger found Eva’s hair fascinating. He liked the colour, and most of all he liked to smell her hair by rubbing his nose gently against her scalp. When they did not live together, he was happy to find Eve’s hair on his clothes. That was long ago. Today he’s annoyed by her hair. They are scattered all over the apartment, in the shared bed they also annoy him. It’s worst in the bathroom. There is not a day when he does not have to rid the sink of the long, annoying black hair. The same goes for the shower. He doesn’t understand why the hell can’t Eva put her hair away – he’s probably told her a hundred thousand times.
Maria and Cecil have been together for a long time. They treat one another very lovingly. They have also come to a fair agreement in the division of labour on who does what in the household. They are a harmonious couple, and of course, they quarrel and then. There is only one point where they repeatedly clash quite violently. Cecil always leaves her dirty clothes on the floor and does not close the toothpaste tube. Maria is responsible for laundry and cleaning the bathroom. She doesn’t understand Cecil, why is she doing this to her? All the requests and arguments have not helped, Cecil continues.
Two scenes are taken from a life that could take place anywhere in the world. Who does not know similar situations? When you hear these little stories, you tend to smile. Not too tragic. If you live together, spend your life very closely with another person, then such conflicts are entirely normal. Anything else would be an illusion, romantic wishful thinking. It’s only found in films or in kitsch novels.
But let’s turn a little more closely to the small tragedies and try to understand them better.
To understand conflicts and how they arise, it is essential to clarify THE central questions. I start with two questions:
First: Who is involved in the conflict and who is affected.
Second: Is the conflict intrapersonal or interpersonal.
The first question, namely, to first identify the clarification of participation within a conflict situation, I will explain in more detail in this article. The origin or source of the emergence of a conflict will follow in the next post. So, who is involved? In both cases, only two people are involved. That is the simplest possible case. I chose these cases because it makes it easier to understand conflicts and their characteristics. Here the question of participation is clear: two people at a time. If the couples still had children, then it would be more complicated because they could well be involved in the conflict situation. How that? Well, it’s easy! The parents could ask them to support them, or the children could take sides on their own initiative. You see, as more people are involved in a conflict, the situation becomes more complicated. We are dealing with group dynamic processes. Family therapy deals with this and knows how fundamentally important it is to analyse the question of participation precisely. Only then, when you have precise knowledge of who is involved in the conflict, should you try to tackle a conflict, not beforehand! The reason why I am going into the involvement in detail here is that I have repeatedly made observations in conflict situations. Those actually affected try to involve other people as support for their concerns to strengthen their position. What I am casually saying here leads to profound insight. When there is a conflict, we tend to look for comrades-in-arms to strengthen our position vis-à-vis our opponents. We try to INVITE more people and let them take our side.
At this point, I would like to introduce the term instrumentalization. We want to play all the stops to get help with our disputes. Our goal is to win, to be right and to assert our interests, unfortunately, all too often with a dogmatic narrow-mindedness that does more harm than good. Please apply these thoughts to the current situation around COVID. We are all involved whether we like it or not. The question is, who is trying to instrumentalize us, how and for what purposes? Which registers are drawn there, which messages with which content are scattered from the most varied of places? How do we react emotionally and rationally to these attempts? Are we being influenced and drawn in a direction that does not suit us? I think about it a lot, and although I deal with conflicts for a long time and intensively, I often feel overwhelmed and insecure by this instrumentalization. Then I take my time, talk to friends and family and talk about it. That helps me to find myself again and to feel good.
But back to our conflict examples. We would have clarified the question of participation in this first episode; in both cases, only two people are involved. If the couples had children, it would be not only fair but also brilliant to keep them out of the argument! It is up to everyone to decide to what extent it is ethically and morally justifiable to involve other people in one’s own conflicts as an instrument for one’s own purposes. Here, too, my request to think about two questions about the involvement of other people in conflicts:
First question: If I try to involve people in conflicts for my purposes, why do I do that and is that ok if I do it?
Second question: I like to be drawn into conflict situations, why do I do that and is that ok if I do it?
These questions have something to do with taking sides. I don’t think there is a silver bullet for how to deal with it. How we should deal with it depends on the situation to situation and many other circumstances. If we decide to participate, then we should ask ourselves: how, to what extent, with what expectations and consequences. It has to match our being, our personality and our possibilities. If we decide not to take part in foreign conflicts, then we should also deal with the consequences. But one thing is certain; we will not be able to avoid having to deal with conflicts. They are part of our life. Our only choice is how we deal with them. I think there are a lot of people who try to avoid conflict all the time. In particular, I have observed this increase in women. But this is my very personal, subjective impression and has not been proven by scientific research.
In the next article, I will report on internal conflicts, i.e. conflicts within oneself and on conflicts between different people. Not an easy topic because it overlaps and cannot be easily separated. Do not worry, because we have already clarified the involvement in conflicts. That will help us a lot to understand conflicts better and, hopefully, to deal better with them. Together with Eva, Holger, Maria and Cecil, we will delve into the matter step by step. Perhaps then we will manage to approach to learn to love conflict.