Existential Psychology

Conflict Without Cruelty

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When conflict arises in our close relationships we tend to quickly substitute our normal open, supportive attitude for a closed, adversarial attitude. With the adversarial attitude clouding our vision we temporarily cease to see our loved ones as loved ones but rather as dangerous enemies to be vanquished.

And the rub is that in this adversarial state of mind, where loved ones get transformed into enemies, we feel justified, even righteous, in saying and doing cruel things. It’s a sad irony that most of us wouldn’t dream of saying or doing these same cruel things to strangers or acquaintances. We treat the people we don’t care about better than we treat the people we purport to care about the most in this world.

The psychological key to transforming this insane situation is to consciously separate conflict from cruelty. Conflict is inevitable in any and all close relationships where superficiality has made way for depth. But cruelty is not. We all retain the freedom to decide exactly how we want to approach conflict situations with our loved ones. When we choose to see them as adversaries we’re more likely to approach them in an adversarial way. When we choose to see them as friends we’re more likely to approach them in a friendly way.

When the vision starts clouding over, when the adversarial mode takes hold as the conflict situation starts to unfold, that’s the time to take a conscious step back and remember that the person in front of us is not an adversary but a loved one, not an enemy but a friend. And while cruel words and actions might temporarily subdue this person they exert a deleterious effect on the relationship as a whole and set the stage for more conflict, not less conflict, in the future.