For most people, conflict is the main problem they have in their relationships. There is virtually no one who does not have conflict in their relationships. In this post I will try explain what are the causes of conflict in our relationships, how to overcome our own anger and how to resolve conflicts with others
What are the causes of conflict in our relationships
Self-cherishing is the root cause of all problems in our relationships. It is because we are pursuing our own interests, often at the expense of others, that our relationships have difficulties and conflict. From self-cherishing comes attachment – where we view other people as a cause of our happiness. They are there to make us happy. From self-cherishing also comes anger – the mind that things that other people are the cause of our suffering.
So how does attachment cause problems in our relationships: mostly through our expectations of others. We expect so many things of others, and then when they don’t live up to our expectations of them, we feel like they have failed us, and we are unhappy or angry. We have expectations that others treat us in a certain way, for example talking to us in a certain way or treating us with respect. We have expectations that others do or not do certain things for us, for example our parents paying for our university or our partner bringing us flowers on Valentine’s day. We have expectations that others behave in a particular way, for example of wanting our kids to go to bed. But others did not ask us to have these expectations of them, so it is mighty unfair to judge them when they don’t live up to them.
So how does anger create problems in our relationships? We can get angry about anything and anger always makes the situation worse. It always escalates the conflict or harm. Even if we deter the other person from doing what we don’t want with our anger, we just create resentment which provokes other problems, it leaves us miserable and from a spiritual perspective, it destroys all our merit.
How do we overcome our own anger in our relationships?
In the final analysis, it is better to have zero expectations of anyone or anything. Then we are never disappointed. Take the example of how we are all taught to manage the expectations of our boss. If he gives us some project to do and asks us how long do we think it will take to complete it, we always give ourselves a little more time than we will actually need. Why do we do this? If we think the project is going to take us 1.5 weeks to complete and we say that, then if we turn it in in 1.5 weeks it will be expected and if it takes longer than 1.5 weeks we are late. If instead we say 2 weeks, then if we turn it in after 1.5 weeks we are a hero, whereas if we turn it in in 2 weeks it is not a problem. We manage our boss’ expectations. But we need to manage our own expectations of others. If we expect great things – or for that matter, if we expect anything – from others, then we set ourselves up for disappointment. If they meet our expectations, we are not happy because it was expected. If they fall short of our expectations, we are unhappy. Either way we lose. If instead we expect absolutely nothing from others, then even the smallest thing they do will exceed our expectations and we will be happy and grateful. Ironically, by expecting nothing of others we can become grateful for everything.
In every situation if we check carefully we will see there are two possibilities: We can do something about it or we can’t. If we can do something about it, we should do so. Then no problem. No need to make a big drama out of it (which we usually do). If we can’t do something about it, then we practice patient acceptance. This is a mind that happily and wholeheartedly accepts difficult situations. It is not just bear with it, but genuinely welcome the situation. Since there is nothing you can do about it, you have a choice of either be upset about the unavoidable or transform the experience into something meaningful. If with two cancer patients, one accepts their illness and the other does not, surely the latter suffers far more.
How do we practice patient acceptance? We find ways of transforming the situation into an opportunity to increase our own inner qualities. We consider the situation a lesson in the law of karma. We created the cause to experience whatever is happening to us. So we are paying off a long-standing debt – like paying off the last mortgage payment. We can use the situation to increase our determination to treat others as we would want to be treated: kindly. It is important to not feel any guilt here. Guilt differs from regret in two ways: (1) regret is forward looking, and (2) regret blames our delusions (not ourselves). We can consider it a lesson in the need to overcome our delusions. The only reason why we suffer in a situation is because we respond to it in a deluded way, and because motivated by delusions we created the karmic cause to experience this problem. So we can identify what delusions are present in our mind, and try to overcome them. We can consider it a lesson in compassion for others. Others are suffering from far worse, and so instead of thinking about ourselves, we can think about others and generate the compassionate wish to actively dedicate ourselves to helping relieve others of their suffering.
In the next post we will talk about how to not-retaliate, and instead to make peace.