Opportunities for Personal Growth in Relational Conflicts
A few days ago Cornelia and I planned to go paddle-boarding early the next morning. Those short trips along the Tutukaka coastline to secluded beaches are among our favourite date times. We got up early in the morning and were looking forward to having a perfect couple time for the next few hours. I was enjoying a cup of coffee while waking up and doing a few little chores.
I noticed Cornelia mentioning a few times we should get going and she was giving me hints that it was getting late. Basically she was ready to leave as soon as possible and was waiting for me to pack up. I thought I had heard her and was silently reasoning within my mind, “yes I want to go soon too, but I’m not in a rush and I like to peacefully finish my cup of coffee”, this included wandering around the house, doing little things like checking the weather report and e-mails. All of a sudden, out of the blue (or was it after Cornelia unsuccessfully tried to get my attention?) I heard her say something like, “You are never pulling, I always have to push you!” Wow, that didn’t feel good and I started to become defensive.
We left, didn’t talk much in the car and found ourselves emotionally disconnected. Needless to say our date didn’t turn out as expected and we were both disappointed and frustrated. After a time of silence and paddling along next to each other (with some safety distance of approximately 100m!) I got a revelation. As I was trying to figure out what had just happened, I realized that we had not come to a stated agreement for when to leave the house in the morning. What! Could it be that simple? She had an expectation that leaving soon meant leaving immediately – within 5 minutes, my expectation was leaving soon meant leaving after my coffee had been leisurely sipped and I’d checked a few emails. I could have said to Cornelia, “I hear you want to leave right now and I like to finish my cup of coffee. Let’s agree on the time we will leave the house. Is 15 minutes okay with you?”
Still paddling, I got closer to my wife and told her about my discovery. We talked and I started to get to see how she must have felt from her perspective. We connected through understanding, validation, and empathizing with each other and it was time to go home. It first felt as if we had just wasted our time and missed out – what a bummer! We both hate being emotionally disconnected. But was it really a waste of time? Why had we not come up many months ago with a simple agreement, and where did these emotions in both of us come from?
We reminded ourselves of what we believe and have preached to others, “Conflict is growth trying to happen”.
We find this statement by Dr. Harville Hendrix so true and have experienced it many times in our own marriage. We would like to encourage you to view areas of conflict in your marriage or single life as opportunities for growth. This growth potential is always there for both of us, not just for the other person we are in the conflict with. Conflict almost certainly brings up negative emotions, but for different reasons. The vast majority of our negative emotions is not caused by the other person’s behaviour we are in conflict with, but are triggered and based on previous hurts and beliefs we are not conscious about. If that is true, we can be thankful for those emotions as they are an invitation to experience healing and growth. Something from the unconscious part of our brain just surfaced, we see it and we can deal with it now if we are brave. What an opportunity!
Cornelia and I found it helpful to sometimes seek other people to come alongside and to coach us through those growth processes. We both would like to partner with you and are offering couple-coaching sessions for married couples as a ministry of Bethel Church Whangarei. You can contact us by e-mail at email@example.com and we will call you back.
Theo and Cornelia Eggenberg