Dealing with conflicts is one of the most difficult parts of a relationship.

How can mindfulness help? Well, it can help you to see what’s going on:

Having these kinds of feelings is completely normal, but they can make coming up with a resolution very difficult. How can you come up with a peaceful solution to your conflict when you’re both resentful or angry?

So what can we do about these emotions? It’s tough, because if we feel wronged, we don’t want to put the emotions aside — we want justice. We want the other person to pay, or at least atone for their wrong. We don’t want to admit wrong, nor apologize, nor put aside our feelings. We want to be right.

And of course, this is the problem. Conflict get much worse when we insist on being right, when we insist on justice. This isn’t helpful, nor does it lead to our own happiness. We just feel angry or hurt or resentful.

A better way is to find peace with your own emotions, and then respond appropriately to the situation.

Let’s look at how to do that.

Finding Peace

When someone behaves badly, we have a choice:

  1. We can respond in anger, and take it out on them or withdraw because of hurt pride. We can allow their bad behavior to make us feel wronged and resentful or hurt; or
  2. We can not let their behavior get to us, and think that it’s nothing personal, and instead find peace within.

Which is better? If you like being angry when someone else behaves badly, choose the first line of action. But I’ve found that being at peace and then figuring out how to resolve the problem works much better — both for the relationship and the situation, and for my own happiness.

Why sacrifice your own happiness just because of a sense of justice? Why be unhappy because someone else isn’t behaving perfectly? That’s not to excuse bad behavior, but it’s to protect our own sanity, peace of mind, happiness.

OK, so how do we find peace when someone has behaved badly? We have to find a new way of looking at their behavior.

Don’t Take It Personally

When someone insults us, or seems to attack us in some way … we take it as a personal attack on our personal being. This causes us to react in defensiveness or anger, to lash out or withdraw.

The problem isn’t with their behavior — it’s that we’ve taken it personally. Yes, their behavior isn’t great … but people will always behave badly sometimes. If we take it personally every time, we will constantly be unhappy.

Instead, think of it as a kid you don’t know, throwing a tantrum somewhere down the street: you can see him getting upset, but you know it has nothing to do with you. In this case, the kid is having a hard time, poor kid … and throwing a tantrum (behaving badly) … but it’s nothing personal. It’s just the kid having a hard time. Easy enough, right?

Now imagine your significant other or your own kid or a good friend has behaved badly — instead of taking it personally, think of the other person as the kid who is throwing a tantrum down the street. Nothing to do with you. Just them having a hard time.

When we can separate their bad behavior from ourselves, and see that they’re just having a hard time … we can remain at peace.

Now, I understand that it’s not always that easy. We’ll all respond in anger when we’re attacked or treated wrongly. But pause between your internal reaction, and your external response. Let yourself calm down, and start to see the other person as a strange kid who is having a hard time. It’s nothing personal.

Once you’ve found peace, you can decide how to respond.

Responding Appropriately

If you’ve found some measure of peace, the question then is how to respond. At this point, your responses are more likely to be appropriate than if you were feeling wronged, insulted, angry, hurt.

Some ideas:

It takes a bigger person to behave like this when the other person isn’t behaving so well, but it leads to your own happiness, and can make the situation better rather than worse.

So many times we grow into a pattern in a relationship that isn’t necessarily healthy — they get angry so we get angry, we say hurtful things, and we don’t work out a good solution. Or perhaps they get angry so we withdraw, and don’t talk about the problem, and nothing gets resolved. But these patterns can be broken, if we don’t take things so personally and start to respond appropriately.

I understand that this way of doing things won’t seem right to many of you reading this who want to make the other person apologize when they’re wrong. But maybe if we don’t respond in kind, but rather respond kindly, they’ll get to the place where they can apologize. Either way, at least you’ll be happier.

I say try this for the week, and see if it helps. I’ve found it tremendously useful for my own peace of mind, though I’ll admit I’m far from perfect!