Dan said, “Are those microphones behind you?” I was on a videoconference with Dan (not his real name) and the other people in his cohort, and he saw two large microphones on the desk behind me.
“Yes,” I said. “Several years back, Sara and I had a podcast on iTunes. We had 40,000 downloads over 18 months.”
“Did you like doing it?” Dan asked.
“Yes, but it was hard work.” I thought back in time. Then I laughed.
“Especially when we fought,” I chuckled.
Dan and the rest wanted me to go on, so I did. Here’s the story I told them…
There Was This One Episode
Sara and I would sit at the ends of this desk, facing one another when we recorded our podcast. Reading each other’s eyes and body language was essential. Especially since, at the time, we were trying to harmonize our message.
That was a challenge because Sara and I sometimes don’t agree. Occasionally, we strongly disagree. Let’s just say that some podcast episodes were not “in the can” after one take.
Well, there was one time I decided to play around with doing a video of our podcast. I had a video camera trained on the two of us behind our mics, recording. Can you see where this is going?
Yes, we got into an argument during the recording while the camera was recording.
(You really should try this with someone you love.)
At one point, when I was at my knuckleheaded best, Sara turned to the camera and said, “I sure am glad you are recording this.” Right in the middle of the conflict!
“So am I,” I said.
Both of us figured we had the other one busted, right there on video. Right? Oh, this was going to be GOOD!
The Morning After
Well, the next morning, after breakfast, we were reflecting on the conflict — something we always do and do quite well. This is one of the best ways we support one another in our individual growth, and it keeps our marriage vibrant and alive. After talking for a bit, we decided to watch the video together.
(You really should try this with someone you love. Really. Epic stuff.)
We watched, and we then looked at one another, both of us realizing we were busted. It seems that neither of us was quite the angel our mothers imagined us to be. You’ve heard a picture is worth a thousand words? Well, that video was priceless.
A Bit of Backstory
Dan and the group laughed, and I’ll pause with them there. I’d like to give you a bit of the backstory they didn’t hear.
In my first marriage, my wife once said the silliest thing I’d ever heard. She said, “You and I don’t have enough conflict.” I thought that was ridiculous.
I said, “Do you know how many couples would love to have as little conflict as we have?” She responded with a wince and fell into silence. I guess I took care of that, didn’t I?
I didn’t realize it until after she asked me for a divorce about a year later that what she said was a cry for help. She was saying there were things she needed to say to me, and she wasn’t able to. And she was saying she knew there were things I needed to say and wasn’t. She was saying we needed to fight–to have a conflict–to sort it out. And I was having nothing of it.
I was single for eleven years between the end of my first marriage and the beginning of my marriage to Sara, twelve years ago now. I learned quite a bit about conflict in those eleven years. It was a period of coming to know what the “waking sleep” is, and of finding a new way forward and a new way of being in life.
That said, most of what I’ve learned about how to do conflict well, I’ve learned in my relationship with Sara. She’s quite good at it, plus she shows me no mercy and grants me no quarter. Further, she is a fantastic “mirror” for me. All of which happens to be precisely what I have needed to learn quite a bit about how conflict not only can be productive, but is necessary for creativity, collaboration, and growth.
Back to Dan and the Cohort
No, I didn’t give Dan and his cohort all that backstory, but I did add this:
“You know, my conflict with Sara is quite productive–it goes somewhere. It wasn’t always like that for me. I really value that about her and our relationship. We get closer all the time when so many couples drift apart…”
And I paused, and reflected, and added this.
“I never realized this, but I don’t think love is possible without getting good at conflict. Not unconditional love, anyways. Unconditional love and productive conflict go hand in hand. I don’t know, but I don’t think it can be any other way.”
Several people said, “thank you for sharing that.” We moved into the personal development work a cohort does — all that from a question about a pair of microphones.
I hear people from time to time say, “We never have any conflict, or at least it is very rare.” I always raise an inner eyebrow at such a statement, and often an external one. A warning light flashes on the dashboard of my mind.
These people are either more evolved than me or in denial. Based on what I can see and sense if I were a betting man, I’d bet on the latter.
This, I can tell you: avoiding conflict or doing it poorly is the best way to squeeze the life out of something. A marriage. A family. An organization. A team. That’s the inconvenient truth.
Life is change. Change is conflict. Get good at conflict, and you get good at life. And unconditional love.
What about you? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Can you be great at unconditional love if you aren’t great at conflict? What does your spouse or partner think?
You might take up some questions like this with the one you love:
- Is our conflict productive?
- Do we engage in the conflict we need to have?
- Does the conflict we have bring us closer over time?
- Does it help us grow individually?
- Or is our avoidance of conflict and the way we act in our conflict hurtful or keeping us stuck?
- Is unconditional love possible without productive conflict?
- What is the single most important change you’d like to see me make for our conflict to be more productive? And what impact do you think that would have on me, you, and us?
I’ll end with a quotation I saw on the front page of an article from the Harvard Business Review called “How Management Teams Can Have a Good Fight.”
“An absence of conflict isn’t harmony. It’s apathy.”
Think about it.
I can tell you this: getting better at conflict has changed my life.
And I’m moving towards unconditional love. Not there, no. A long way to go. But better. Yes, better. And smiling. Sometimes after wincing, but smiling still.
And getting back on the horse every time I fall off. Which, my friend, is more often than not.
And you? Where are you with conflict, love, and life?