Most of us prefer harmony in our relationships with each other. We want to get along. Conflict feels unpleasant, and addressing it can be a lot of work. But is it good to make constant harmony our goal?
Being in sync with others feels great, yet given our differing perspectives, disagreements are inevitable. We can choose to “keep the peace” by not expressing our dispute with what others have said or done. It doesn’t inwardly change our differences, just keeps the waters calm on the surface.
Creating harmony is a balancing act of choosing when to acknowledge strain and when to let things slide for a bit. There are advantages to avoiding outward conflict. It certainly ensures the appearance of getting along. For example, it may be important to keep our feelings to ourselves at work if openly expressing tension is frowned upon. And ignoring a snarky remark from our spouse when they’re under stress can help prevent a small thing from morphing into something big.
A less admirable benefit to pretending not to notice underlying conflict is that we can convince ourselves that everything is fine. Then we can blame any clashes on whoever finally expresses the tension that actually exists. This saves us from having to address our part in the conflict.
However, denying obvious tension gets in the way of creating genuine closeness. When we engage respectfully with our differences with others, it strengthens relationships. When conflict is not acknowledged, we can’t work through it. We aren’t able to express what we each need and create solutions that work for everyone.
Demanding constant harmony or pretending it exists when we know it doesn’t also has a repressive effect on others. If they feel that they can’t express dissatisfaction or other uncomfortable emotions with us, they’ll tend to distance themselves. They will feel they can’t be themselves around us. Frustration builds, resentment takes hold, and there is an erosion of trust. Eventually, the relationship will weaken to the point that it dissolves.
We honestly may not be aware of existing tensions. Not all of us are sensitive to clues others are giving and not everyone expresses their dissatisfaction clearly. It is important to acknowledge the reality of conflict once someone expresses it, though. By definition, if one person feels conflict in a relationship, harmony is missing.
It takes courage to acknowledge and tackle disharmony with those who are important in our lives. It requires going through the hard work of addressing differences and coming to a shared understanding of each other. That may mean agreeing to disagree on some things. We will still have learned more about each other in the process and can appreciate why they feel the way they do. And then we can get along.