Almost every major argument I’ve had—whether with a friend, romantic partner or co-worker—follows the same pattern:
One person acts in a way that upsets the other, often over something trivial; the other person reacts to the reaction, and things escalate from there.
By the time the conflict reaches a boiling point, neither party even remembers how the fight began, but both are convinced that they are right.
We all have a tendency to lash out when we feel like we’ve been wronged. What we don’t realize is that anger only begets more anger. Think of all of the times you’ve yelled at someone you are close with. Did they suddenly have a change of heart and concede that they were wrong, or did they just yell back?
And when they did yell back, did you stop to reconsider your position and take into account their perspective, or did you just get angrier?
What we fail to realize is it’s often not the other person that we are actually mad at. We have a tendency to take out our negative emotions on others, especially those closest to us. Whatever started the fight gives us a convenient excuse to do so. Maybe we are just having a bad day. Maybe we recently went through a tough breakup, or are experiencing physical pain from an injury.
Regardless, when someone close to us upsets us, we try to dump all of our negative emotions on them.
The problem is our loved-one doesn’t know what’s going on inside of us. All they know is that we are hurting their feelings, so they feel compelled to defend themselves by hurting us back. This cycle goes on and on, and sometimes irreparable damage is done.
The trick to overcoming relationship sabotage is to recognize this destructive cycle and step out of it. We can’t control the other person’s reaction, but we can take ownership of our part in the fight and be humble about our contribution.
Since it’s hard to realize all of this in the middle of a conflict, I made the following theatrical video to demonstrate the aforementioned downward spiral. If we can learn to visualize any conflict like an outsider watching a video of it unfold, then perhaps we can learn to be more humble, and take ourselves off the road to hell.
Author: Omid Malekan
Image: Screenshot from A Human Conflict video
Editors: Renée Picard; Emily Bartran