Have you ever had a nasty and pointless fight with your partner… and you walked away actually thinking…
“Hey, I wish I didn’t _____ (insert your worst behaviour).
I wish I could stop being such an idiot when we fight!”
If you have the honesty, courage and ego strength to admit that you have sucked at conflict — in the past and still in the present — and you are now ready to accept that your conflict strategies need an upgrade, you are reading the right article.
The next step is start looking for a place to learn about conflict.
Note, I won’t try to convince you that you should do this.
Nor will I try and sell you my solution.
Instead, I want to help you to know what to look for. And to help you to discern if you have found the right place to do the work needed to learn to fight better with your dearest and closest.
To lay the foundation of understanding, we need to take two steps back.
First. Conflicts are inevitable and even necessary but they are also incredibly risky.
They happen in a flash.
Within seconds, without thinking, we lose our heads and react in ways we later regret.
Burning another bridge. Stinging our lover and poisoning another potentially good relationship.
If you have dared to delve deeper, you would discover that your relationship conflicts are not random. They are a well choreographed show you’ve been acting in since before you could speak.
The groove in our nervous system for conflict is deep and immediate. The memories of how we were abandoned, betrayed, humiliated, suffocated or disrespected run deep and have us in their clutches. That is why it is incredibly difficult to dis-entangle ourselves from doing conflict in ways we know make things worse for us.
That’s why I wrote this piece (part 2 of this series) to give you a sense of what it really takes to master conflicts.
Now, you ready to answer the most obvious next question,
“WHERE can I learn to do conflicts better?”
In case you are interested about where not to go — meaning the places that teach you to do it worst — read this piece.
Now, lets dig in to the rare spaces where conflict can be studied, dissected and done well.
There are five environments I recommend you consider seriously.
At least one of them might surprise you.
Lets begin with the obvious one.
#1: The COUCH
Therapy seems like the ideal place for couples especially to work out their differences in a private and confidential way, with an expert trained in the art of how to do conflicts better.
Then again, most men avoid therapy like the plague. Going only when their partners drag them. Coercion and fear are not an ideal set up for couples to work through disagreements and tensions.
But, lets not fall into seeing therapy as the imagine in this pic (above)— the worst fear of most men: paying 100’s of dollars an hour to sit in shame talking about how we suck at relationships with some stranger — and it just makes you feel worst, right?
This is not what really happens when you see a good therapist, alone or with your partner. This is just your FEAR(False Evidence Appearing Real) talking. Dare to challenge this outdated and inaccurate image, as you have been challenging your distorted conditioning around conflict, by reading this series so far.
The risks of therapy:
But, lets also be honest, there are some pitfalls and challenges about therapy.
For one, therapists are people too, with our own limitations and challenges — especially around dealing with conflict!
I remember years ago, being at a therapist training conference given by a leading expert over 4 days with 200 of my colleagues. At one point, we took turns going on stage to role play scenarios of a client having a conflict with us as a therapist. Despite all the training and preparation, one after another we saw volunteers playing the therapist fail to de-escalate the conflict or address it in any effective way. Finally, the expert stopped the show to highlight how — in his 40 years experience — he has found therapists reliably tend to really suck at hearing someone telling them that they are mad at them directly.
Add to the list of its challenges,…
…therapy can be very expensive and take a long time to show progress.
That being said, there are some great therapists in every city who know how to rock your world and show you and your partner how to fight in ways that bring your closer to deeper layers of passion and intimacy.
See my 4 criteria (further below) to help you separate the wheat from the chaff and find someone who can help you.
But, it’s important to note that therapy is not the only place where you can learn about mastering conflicts.
#2: The Coaching DESK
Life and relationship coaches seem to be a dime a douzen these days. But that doesn’t mean that some of them aren’t incredible at teaching us what we may need to learn!
The strength of coaching is having someone walk you through steps and work out the plan you need. They are great for the head game and usually excel at teaching some system of self awareness, good communication and skills around conflict resolution. These are what I call the elements of AIR: knowing thyself and your partner and FIRE: skills to resolve fights (see previous piece on the 5 Elements needed to Master Conflicts).
The risk you take with them is that most coaches are neither trained in mental health nor what I consider to be deep psychology — knowing how to work with the deeper emotions that drive our conflicts.
Also coaches can be incredibly expensive — watch your thousands fly quickly.
And it can be easy to find folks claiming expertise but lacking real depth of training. Relationships are messy and deep. Hard to find a coach skilled and experienced enough to go there.
But then again, many therapists (trust me I know hundreds) are trained in methods but don’t have the life experience and depth of understanding that a relationship coach may have.
#3. The DOJO
Here’s something unexpected. Some of the most patient, loving and deeply skilled men and women I know are black belts. And I say this, having seen them myself, facing someone screaming and threatening them on the street or having deep disagreements with their kids and spouse.
The co-relation is not a rule however.
Training in most martial arts will give you a certain amount of strength, confidence and courage to face threats like grabs and attacks. In terms of intimate conflicts, all of the physical combat can have a profound effect of regulating our nervous systems over many years of practice which I think translates eventually from the mats into the bedroom and kitchen table.
Be aware, however, that outcomes of the student are deeply influenced by the quality of the dojo and the teacher.
There are lots of dojos around, so you need to be discerning.
Some places just seem to churn out boneheads —skillful at hitting and defence but not much more — no matter how long they train or how high they progress.
There are also a lot of schools that concern themselves with “Kata fluff” (formal flair less than self defence effectiveness). Which is nice if you like order and predictability, but such training tends to cultivate a false sense of confidence and certainty which collapses when facing actual conflicts and any chaos in the real world.
I would recommend a good BJJ (Brazilian JiuJitsu) or Systema class, or a rare but findable Aikido school.
How do you know it’s worth it’s salt?
Ask students. Look online at reviews. Then, check out a free class (a free and fun adventure). Ask the students there how they feel about training. In the end, trust your gut. The teacher and vibe you get trumps every other factor (like prestige, price, style or location, etc.).
#4: The WORKSHOP
When you want to learn from the best, you go train with the best.
That explains why I was a workshop junkie for many years, travelling and staying thrifty to be able to study with some of the most skillful leaders in conflict and human relations around.
Nowadays, you can attend prestigious online conferences for a lot less and show up for conference calls in your underwear. You can also take ecourses in any topic, 24/7.
With so many options, the challenge nowadays is where and with whom?
One training that has been around for decades and is a go-to for many people, is Non-Violent Communication (NVC) developed by Marshall B. Rosenberg. You can find groups that meet and practice this system in every city as well as some seasoned leaders running workshops for many levels.
Other folks I know are drawn to work with charismatic leaders like Tony Robbins, coaching a man here to resolve the conflict of whether to stay or go with his wife:
Personally, when it comes to understanding and navigating deep conflicts that come up with my wife, over the years, I’ve been drawn to learning from a handful of the world’s most masterful relationship therapists/coaches.
Here are my top 5 at the moment:
Works with couples in a deep way and teaches therapists to be brave in confronting men particularly. Powerful and authentic approach. Want to work with him directly when he comes to my town next!
This pioneering couple are leaders in scientific research around marriage, as well as, deeply knowledge in the field working with couples in trouble. I don’t think I will ever be able to afford to meet them, but find their work incredibly accurate and worth studying through books and articles they publish.
I love the honesty and humility of Stan. His work is so relatable and direct when it comes to couples fighting and also in the practical ways we could be bonding better.
Jayson Gaddis — Smart Couple Podcast and The Relationship School
Jayson is incredible at interviewing the best of the best around the thorniest relationship topics (including conflict) and encouraging everyone listening being pro-active and engaging in their relational growth. His Relationship School and conflict training seems solid and his community a vibrant and passionate one.
Christian is a master at leading groups and empowering men and women to know their own operating systems to connect more deeply. His way of working with conflict is intuitive, empowering, simple and yet deep.
Navigating conflicts and creating lasting love take so much more than communication skills learned at a workshop, which my fellow Medium author Kris Gage well reminds us, it takes commitment!
Finding the right teacher is not enough. Finding the right community to practice and learn in is essential.
Here are some spaces which provide that wrap-around…
#5: The CIRCLE of MEN
There are more and more spaces popping up where men go to learn to do conflict better.
It’s more than about learning skills but also about creating the “container” for honesty and healing to happen.
A place where I learned a critical part of doing conflict better — owning my own judgements and emotions instead of just projecting them on others — was MKP (The Mankind Project).
This NY Times piece covers the terrain of a few groups out there worth checking out (including MKP).
These Men Are Waiting to Share Some Feelings With You
In meetings and retreats, chastened menfolk are working stuff out. On a Monday night in a sparsely decorated room in…
Not all men’s groups are equal. Some are full of seasoned men who respect and empower one another. Some have assholes running them who use the group to feed their narcisistic egos. Finding the right organization and group is an act that demands you to be open, courageous and discerning.
Also, given some odd responses I get when I talk about men’s groups, I need to add this. A good men’s group (the ones I have been to) are exclusively for men (obvious) and yet not about bitching about nor denigrating women. There are communities for women also, like this one which I hold in high regard.
Now, knowing the 5 different kinds of spaces out there for learning to master conflict, how do you discern the right one for you?
Below is the criteria I put at the top of my list before I would lay out any money and — more importantly — my time and trust.
The 4 CRITERIA: How I discern WHERE to go
So, in sussing out the between the best where (dojo, couch, coach or workshop) to study and master conflict, I caution you.
Do not make it too much about the fame or prestige of the teacher, the cost or how close they are (convenience).
Learning to master conflict will take everything you got. It will involve getting real and vulnerable with strangers.
So, to help you to suss out the right place for you to do this deep work, I recommend that you look for these four markers.
One or two are a welcoming sign.
All four would make me sigh in relief, knowing that I’ve arrived at the right place.
Notice how they are arranged alphabetically, to help you remember them.
1. Authentic Authority
The vibe here feels real and ready. Battle scarred, they have clear experience and know how when it comes to engaging in conflicts. They feel trust worthy and yet humble, with awareness of their limitations.
2. Big on Boundaries
This place has clear rules and expectations. And everyone discovers pretty quickly when those are not being respected. There is flexibility and compassion, but the basic limits and needs of everyone to feel safe and respected are non-negotiable.
3. Carry Confidence and Courage
The leaders in this space exude easy confidence and a fierceness when it comes to taking emotional risks. They don’t hide behind masks or pretence.
4. Deep and Devoted Enough
This part is really important to me and speaks to The 5 Elements needed to master conflict. Are the leaders and the system they follow deep and comprehensive enough? Do they practice what they preach and do so on a regular basis?
FINALLY, where do I go…?
After training with many masters and experts over the years, I was tired of travelling and spending thousands of dollars. I also wanted to practice within a local community because…
It takes a village to raise a child AND…
It takes an army of powerful and loving friends and mentors to thrive in our intimate relationships.
Not finding the right environments that taught all 5 Elements needed to Master Conflict, I decided to create a couple of spaces.
One is to gather my friends and train in what I call Relational Aikido.
This is a blend of the martial arts and intimate conflict skills that are most relevant and practically helpful when I wish to transform tension and disagreements myself. You can see us demonstrate it here.
To help me practice what I preach and stay accountable, I also gather a group of committed men in Toronto, Canada, which we call a Masterheart. It’s like a Mastermind for business except for our relationships.
So, that’s me, creating what I most need in my life to help me with my relationship.
Where will YOU go next to master your conflicts and invest in strengthening your relationships?
Please share below any success stories and resources you have found helpful in the realm of learning the art of mastering intimate conflict.