How to find hope in the face of conflict

hope in the face of conflict

When a conflict looms large it can begin to feel like the only thing left between you. That’s an error of perception, of course. You are not one-dimensional figures with a single agenda; neither of you has become that. The conflict has blocked your views of each other as the multi-dimensional humans you really are. Don’t let it.

A woman calls me to discuss a conflict she’s facing. She talks about the frustration, the sadness, the way the conflict is always there, overshadowing so many of each day’s interactions with her partner, coloring how they both see the future. She asks me, How do I know there’s still hope for us?

How do you find hope in the face of conflict? It is a very fine question and one I am asked often in various forms: How do you know you can help us? Do you think I’m crazy to try one last time to change the conflict between us? I’m out of hope but keep thinking there must be something we haven’t tried yet. Is it worth it to try or are we wasting our time? Do you think there’s hope, Tammy?

At first blush, it seems an unanswerable question. It seems to require a crystal ball or for me to divine an answer from the air. But that isn’t the case. There is a way for her to glean how much of the relationship still feeds her soul, for her to see if there’s enough there to make it worth her effort. I tell her what I have suggested to many possible clients over the years.

I say, Go for a walk or a hike. Go out for dinner. Go to the amusement park. Go snowshoeing. Go skateboarding. Go anywhere you can be together without agenda and can talk freely. There is only one rule: You both must agree to pretend there is no heavy conflict between you, just for the period you’re out together. Talk about anything but the conflict or things that have fed the conflict. Spend your time talking about the things you enjoy talking about when there’s no conflict, laugh about the things that make you both laugh. Remember what it felt like before there was so much conflict that you couldn’t see past it. See what you see, see what you feel.

Try to do this a few times. Make the brief commitment to play pretend for a little of your time together. You don’t have to play the game forever, just for long enough to get a glimpse of what it’s possible to feel again.

You have so many dimensions, so much about you that is outside of this conflict. You are like a beautiful glass marble, full of color, something interesting about you from every angle. So is he. So is she.

To find hope in the face of conflict, you must remind yourself what he or she is like outside of the conflict. You must see around the conflict as much as possible, see whether or not he is a person you want to continue with if the conflict is not separating you. You must see her as the multi-dimensional person she is.

That is where hope lives.

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  1. Rosa says

    I don´t want you think I always write the same, but Tammy, how beatiful are your quotes!! I have right now a big family trouble with a sister in law and me and my other brother and sisters feel in a whole. I use in the family meetings all what I have learned about negotiation and conflict resolution. In one of that meetings and when the conflicto begin the escalation, I said: “Remember, we have to be soft with the people and hard with the problem”. And I explained the meaning of that widely. In another meeting my sister in law said: “I don´t agree what Rosa said the last day”. And repeat what I said, “We have to confront people”. She still understand that be soft with people is being weak. She see inly her worries, needs and insterests. And the only thing stop here by know is the lawyer. It is very sad Tammy!!

    • says

      Rosa, it sounds like you’re on quite a rocky road right now. Such times in our lives truly put our skills and patience to the test and remind us that we mediators are but humble humans too.

  2. says

    Well, great advice as always, Tammy. I think of the Ken Cloke story where he helped mend a family rift of almost fifty years, and he got the two primary-combatant brothers to agree to fly kites together. The rift began when one brother was four years old, and one of that brother’s pained memories was how his older brother had broken his kite then.

  3. Dorothy Clough says

    I have a jar of old fashioned marbles on the kitchen window sill. Now they will remind me of this beautiful advice every morning! Thank you for this analogy! Dorothy

    • says

      I love this! I have a jar of marbles, too, and it’s what made me think about using them as an image in the story. They’re lovely to look at in the light on a window sill, aren’t they?