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Coping With Conflict: How Do You Handle It?

(This is cross-posted at BlogHer.)

On July 4th, I did something I haven’t done in quite a long time. I was upset because of a conversation I was having with someone, and I had this feeling come over me that I had to leave the situation right that second. I didn’t want to talk; I didn’t want to work things out; I needed to leave. So I did.

It wasn’t really as dramatic as it sounds. I actually had a great Independence Day — drinks, fireworks, a roof-deck party in DC with a view for miles. But this is what started it all: recently I’ve been hanging out with this guy I wrote about back in April. I try not to have any expectations of us being anything more than friends, but sometimes I slip-up.

When I say that I slip-up, I mean — well, obviously, it’s hard to turn your feelings off completely. I care about him, and I’d rather be his friend than not have any contact with him at all. I know he likes me, and he’s being very careful not to do anything wrong or hurt my feelings. But even though we’re just friends, sometimes things will happen — like we’ll have a two-hour late-night phone conversation, or he’ll invite me to a picnic with his work friends and I get all messed-up in the head because I like playing the role of his girlfriend.

So on July 4th, quite a few drinks in, someone I’d just met that night asked about me and my friend’s relationship status. I gave him my stock answer: J- and I used to date, and now we’re friends. He probed further…why was that? Long story short, J- ended up getting involved in the conversation; he reiterated our just-friends status; I decided I was a little bit sad and offended; I then decided it was time to leave. J- was ready to go, too. He started saying goodbye to people, I headed down the stairs. He was still inside, I was leaving.

That’s where the whole “I needed to leave, so I did” comes in. I just wanted to be…somewhere else. Anywhere else. I didn’t want to talk to J-. I wanted to be by myself. The only problem was, I’d never been to this particular area before that night, so I was heading down an unfamiliar street, alone, with no idea where I was going. I did know there was a Metro station somewhere close, so I figured if I walked in the general direction where I thought it was located, I was bound to come across it.

When I heard J- calling my name, I stopped. I was at least a block ahead of him. If I’d known where I was, there’s a good chance I would have kept going and given him my location later. But I’m not careless, and I didn’t want to be wandering around by myself in the dark. I waited for him to catch up, we walked to the Metro together, and we rode mostly in silence.

Stalking off by myself in the dark probably isn’t all that dramatic (at least not in comparison to what it could have been like). But for me to do something like that is rare. I’m usually pretty even-tempered; I’m the one who calms other people down when emotions flare.

The thing is, I don’t like fighting. I’ll do pretty much anything I can to avoid it. That’s where the flight response came from that night when I was upset. I didn’t walk away because I was trying to be dramatic, and it wasn’t because I was trying to test J- to see if he would chase me down. I’ve just seen too many situations where people raise their voices when they’re upset, and they say things when they’re angry or hurt that they wouldn’t have said otherwise (especially when alcohol is involved). That’s what I didn’t want, and that’s what I was trying to avoid.

And, in the end, that’s what I did avoid. We didn’t talk about it right away, but we talked about it a short time later. All I needed was some time to calm down, and by then I had. We even joked about the fact that — after knowing each other for over six months — we’d just had our first drama-episode. We agreed we didn’t want it to happen again. We’ve spoken several times in the past week since it happened, and everything seems to be back to normal.

I don’t like getting to the point where I have to separate myself from a situation I’m in. But I don’t apologize for it — whatever the conflict is, it will certainly be addressed at some point. By waiting until I know that I’m ready for the conversation to take place, I know I’ll be in a better frame of mind and the resolution will be reached much more quickly and easily.

What’s your method of resolving conflict? Do you insist on hashing it out right away or waiting until you’re a little more calm?

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