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Healthy Disputes

It isn’t all that common to think of interpersonal disputes as healthy and constructive. Rather, it’s often the case that many of us view conflict as destructive and as a sign of problems in the relationship with the other person.

It’s difficult in the midst of a dispute to step back and consider that experiencing negative and strong emotions about situations, when we have differing views and consequently become upset, demonstrates how important matters are to each of us. Understanding why those things mean so much to us is pivotal to contemplating how we may manage the situation, including how to reconcile our differences. That is, sharing our needs and being intentional about figuring out together what might be a mutually acceptable resolution (given such disclosure) constitute two major aspects of what I call healthy disputes.

I’m not referring only to our domestic partnerships or friends and family here. Rather, the possibility of conflict, as we know, pervades all relationships, though it is especially challenging when there is a degree of interdependence. This includes, then, not only our partners, family members and friends. It also includes co-workers, bosses, and those whose expertise and services we count on, such as lawyers, teachers, doctors, dentists and other health professionals.

In any case, disputes with anyone in our personal and professional lives can be unsettling and when they are leading or could potentially lead to a breakdown in the relationship, it can be particularly difficult. Not all disputes necessarily result in such breakdowns, of course, and in many situations, the desire to salvage what we have in the relationship trumps the choice to end it. So, to strive for healthy disputes it helps to remain cognizant of the outcome desired for the relationship and figure out what it will take to make what could be a destructive dispute a healthy and constructive one. Keeping in mind we have choices about how we do so is crucial.

This blog invites you to consider what might be or become a healthy dispute you are having with someone important to you.

  • Generally, to begin with, what is your view of what constitutes a healthy dispute?
  • What, for you, constitutes an unhealthy dispute?
  • What is a dispute about that you are currently having?
  • What makes it unhealthy, considering your definition above? What makes it healthy, considering your definition above?
  • How is the other person contributing to the unhealthy parts?
  • How are you contributing to the unhealthy parts?
  • What choices do you have for making the conflict healthier?
  • What difference would your answer to the above question make to the outcome?
  • What would be a first step to turn the unhealthy pieces of the conflict into healthier ones, if you want to?
  • What are you experiencing as you consider the possibility that you could help make the dispute a healthy one?
  • What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?
  • What insights do you have?

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