According to one of the most fundamental classifications, all conflicts can be separated to interpersonal and intrapersonal. I’ll give you more information about conflicts within ourselves next time, so now let’s focus on issues of misunderstanding with someone else. What kinds of conflicts may these be? Without any hesitation, I can easily name: family conflicts, relationship conflicts, and friendship conflicts as well. Their role is crucial, and all of them have to be solved, obviously. To get started, we need to take a brief look at generational conflicts within families.
The most common reason for conflicts between parents/grandparents and their children is the issue of control. Parents are always afraid of losing their influence on their children as they are growing older. The biggest parental fear is being alone. At the same time, children want to be independent and responsible, and they want to feel adult. This makes their interests incompatible. To deal with this type of conflict, it’s necessary to show that you’re ready to take responsibility, and not just by words, but by actions, too. Let your parents think there’s nothing to worry about. You have your own life, which doesn’t mean you’re planning to leave them as soon as they give you your freedom.
I have had a really curious case in my consulting practice. The client, let her be known as Maria (all names are changed) had a granddaughter, Elizabeth, whose mother died because of drug addiction. Maria raised Lisa alone, and she came to our office when the girl was about 14. Maria was afraid of Elizabeth’s behavior, because the teenaged Elizabeth listened to ‘the wrong kind of’ music and spent her time in ‘bad’ company. I asked whether Maria knew any of Lisa’s friends, and she replied: «No, but I feel they’re inappropriate company for my granddaughter. I have seen them from my window, they look weird». What was wrong with the music? «Her mother also listened to rock, and then I found her smoking and ruining her life». Well, that was the answer to all of my questions. The poor grandmother was so afraid of losing her only, beloved grandchild that she started to see negative indicators in everything around Elizabeth.
What could the girl do in this situation? Slowly, step-by-step she had to prove to her grandmother that she could be trusted. She might introduce Maria to her friends and classmates, and bring her to understand the sort of life Lisa actually lived. Yes, this process could decrease Lisa’s level of independence for a time. But in the end, this approach would lead to the right result.
Relationship and friendship conflicts often have the same basis, which can fall under the heading of attitudes. But what are ‘attitudes’ as psychologists use the term? Richard M. Perloff has defined it as «a psychological construct, a mental and emotional entity that inheres in, or characterises, a person». What does this mean?
Imagine this situation: Fred and George are really good friends. Once, they went to a party where Fred was involved to a dispute with another guy. Their contention was becoming more and more hostile, and everyone was watching this battle between two young men, each trying to show that the other one was mistaken. Fred wanted George to take his side, but George supported the other guy. That was a huge blow to their friendship. Why?
Fred believed that friends were supposed to help one another no matter what, that was his attitude. This was exactly what he expected from George. When George was young, he was taught always to tell the truth. This time he knew that Fred’s opponent was objectively right. He didn’t even imagine that someone could be offended when he was just following the truth.
Nevertheless, the best way to show how attitudes work is to analyse the next case. Lily and Ryan were a married couple, and they had a little baby. Ryan was fired, so now he was home with the baby while Lily was earning money, working from morning to late evening five days a week. They came to us, saying they wanted to divorce. Lily didn’t like that she had to work instead of Ryan, who had begun to be a ‘househusband’. We started to ask Lily questions.
- Are you satisfied with the way Ryan spends time with your daughter?
- Yes, he’s a nice father.
- Do you like the food he cooks?
- Yes, absolutely.
- Do you like to cook?
- No, not at all.
- Is the house clean?
- Yes, always.
- Do you earn enough money from your job?
- Then tell us again … What is wrong?
Happily, the family was saved. However, Lily’s attitudes about being ‘a woman in the family’ were so strong that it took us weeks to bring her into contact with reality. It is strongly recommended to re-assess your attitudes, and also to ask yourself every time you’re offended by someone: are you offended by this person because of his or her behaviour? Or, is it possible that you’re the one who expected something else - and expectations were not met?
Interpersonal conflicts show that people care about each other, though it’s not the prettiest way of demonstrating commitment. Next time you have a quarrel with your partner about unwashed dishes, ask yourself: «Do I fit into all of his/her attitudes on being a good boy- or girlfriend?» Calm down, while arguing with your parents, and think carefully if you have done something more than just screaming «I’m free and independent!» Prove it. Think about your relatives and friends, their demands and fears. Start with these small steps, and one day you’ll find that you have become a wise, trustworthy person.