Many of us will have the same conflict over and over and it hasn’t dawned on us that we are, as Einstein described, ‘using the same thinking to try to solve the problem that we did when we created it in the first place.’

Not smart really, but let’s just sit back and have a look at conflict for a moment.

I learned some time ago that about 70% or higher (I’m not great with remembering these types of details) of problems never get resolved in life. Yes, I said never! That’s actually astounding but what is more astounding is the fact that we re-visit the ‘same old shit’ again and again attempting to get our ideas across putting others and ourselves through copious amounts of unnecessary pressure to resolve a problem that will never get resolved this way.

Exhausting really, and a waste of energy.

What I often tell couples is that if you set out to resolve a problem in one sitting what it does is put a ‘shit load of pressure’ on all parties concerned with poor results. You may not have even planned to just sit down the once and resolve this, but the determination will force the issue and those involved will feel the pressure.

Often people will be determined to tell their view, to make themselves be understood, get a result and it is at this point the pressure builds and the relationship begins to break down around this issue. It is easy from here to see how the desperate effort to be heard from each person causes a stalemate where no one feels understood, they feel less valued, resentment builds and the relationship becomes a little strained at first until this whole pattern can become the couples way of communicating.

Let’s not forget the kiddies here too.

They are the silent partakers of the conflict and even if it isn’t directly in front of them, if it remains unresolved and the tension is still there, they will feel it. Take a moment and think back to when you were a child and how it felt when those around you argued. As ‘little people’ our children absorb their surroundings and learn directly from what is in front of them and are more likely to go on to continue in the same ways of resolving conflict that they have experienced from what’s modelled in front of them by their care-takers.

One solution I am proposing is to broach the topic over time, plan to have 10 conversations or more if needed, about the problem instead of just one, take some pressure off yourself and those around you and plan to understand and be understood slowly.

Why not set some time aside with a cup of tea, in a calm moment and discuss the problem?

Plan only that this is the first stage of talks and that it might take some time to get clarity for all the parties to be and feel completely understood, even when the parties do not agree as that won’t matter at this stage, and have all the issues clearly on the table. The immediate goal then becomes ‘no pressure’.

Conflict is a necessary part of life within healthy relationships and when presented calmly those involved can be and feel respected. It is never easy but it doesn’t have to be that hard either, nor be full of pressure.

Families have enough pressure on them already so why not take the heat off yourself and those you love and care for.


If you want to listen to me you will need to ‘hold your tongue’. Can you do that?

Not only will you need to ‘hold your tongue’ but you will need to hold your energy down, let go of your agenda and be ready to hear what I have to say. Can you do that?

This means you will need to be open to hear what I say if you disagree.

If you disagree with me, are you willing to contain yourself while I finish what I have to say fully, because if you can’t you are not prepared to listen to me.

If you cut me off and are focussed on your argument, when you haven’t heard all of what I have to say on the topic this is not listening but telling me what you think or want.

If you are holding your breath waiting for me to finish, I will know that your focus is on holding your breath and not hearing me and that is not listening either.

These reflections and questions provide a full picture of what it is to truly listen.

Listening is an underrated skill that is less about remembering the words and more about calming your inner voices to be present with the other person.

When someone is truly listened to, it is then that they feel heard, understood, respected and valued.

You may be scared of what the other person has to say and although it may be hard to hear, if they don’t tell you then they will need to keep it to themselves and this can make them anxious.

Listening is a skill of life and when you listen to someone, truly listening to them and quietening your inner self then you help them learn to listen to themselves too.
Most people have a sense that yelling is aggressive, saying nothing is passive and having your say is assertive.

While this is basically true I want to add some information to be more specific on what can include being aggressive, passive and assertive. In this way the three forms of communication are clearly defined to deepen your understanding of what your behaviour reflects more of and consider if you need to upgrade your skills in one area or another.


Let’s look at aggressive first and what it includes.

Aggression includes any form of intimidation used to control another. Consider the behaviour of ‘the silent treatment’ or the use of sarcasm or giving someone ‘the look’. These behaviours may be less defined, may vary for the receiver from slightly confusing to fearfully threatening, and are used for the purpose to control the other person. I would include here what some may have known as ‘passive aggressive’ behaviours because the intention is still to manipulate the other person and to overpower them to get what you want and for your purposes.

Even if the person uses aggression unintentionally it still has the same effect and is not ok. Does this reflect you and your behaviour?


Next let’s look at passive.

Passive on the other hand, gives up control. It isn’t just about being quiet which a common misconception but it is more about not expressing your opinion, holding it in and in some cases not even having one. In this way most ‘all decisions’ or the power of a person who is passive gets handed over to the other person. Truly passive people do not share their feelings or acknowledge they have them and remain mute on topics. Does this reflect you and your behaviour?


Then there is assertive which is what we would possibly all hope to be.

Assertiveness could be translated into: respect you and me at the same time in our communication. This leads to communication which is two-way. That is: being truly assertive will include sharing your opinion even when you know the other person will disagree and being willing to share it anyway in a calm, grounded manner. This is also combined with being able to ‘hold your energy’, relax and listen intently while the other person shares their contrary view. Not a simple task but achievable with practice and self-awareness.

For most of us, the concept of sharing our opinion while respecting the opinions of those around us can be quite tricky. Could this reflect you and your behaviour or would you like it to?


I once did a brave thing and asked my, then 19-year-old daughter “how do you see me?”

And just to give you a ‘heads up’, if you are going to do this you are going to need to be prepared to hear what you may not want to hear. She thought for a while and then with some clarity was able to tell me something that went like this: “Mum, you are like a sponge. You just soak up all the stress and when it gets too much it flows out of you and all over us.”

With that I thanked her and then thought, oh shit, I think I need to some things differently.

Over the next few months, I began to take a good look at myself and my behaviour. I am pleased to report that when I asked her again some months later if the metaphor for me had changed she was able to report back to me: “Yes actually. Now you are a sponge and if there is any stress you soak it up and it is self-contained”. Phew, I had begun to address my behaviour.


Now your turn!

Below are a few questions to get you thinking about your own behaviour and consider if perhaps you could use some up-skilling in a few areas. When someone around you raises a difficult topic what is your response?

  • Do you roll your eyes and walk away? (passive-aggressive)
  • Do you express your opinion quickly and with ‘venom’? (aggressive)
  • Do you glare at the person or drop a sarcastic remark that belittles them or their opinion? (aggressive)
  • Do you dismiss, ignore or just not listen? (a combination of passive & passive- aggressive)
  • Do you agree to keep the peace? (passive)


All these are examples of one-way communication and in honesty it is hard to get the balance right all the time.

Most people have a combination of communication styles but it is worth considering is the bulk of your communication two-way, is your behaviour affecting you and those you love around you?

If you are affecting those around you and those you love in a negative way, then you can choose to change your behaviour.

To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent
people and the affection of children.

To earn the appreciation of honest
critics and to endure the betrayal of
false friends.

To appreciate beauty;

To find the best in others.

To leave the world a bit better
whether by a healthy child, a garden
patch or a redeemed social

To know even one life has breathed
easier because you have lived.

 – Ralph Waldo Emerson