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The Six Rules of Conflict Kung Fu + The Story of How I Got Married in a Funeral Chapel on Friday the 13th

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When I was all of 18 years old, I decided to get married. For some very obvious, and probably accurate reasons, no one in my life was particularly thrilled with that choice. Everyone could see what I couldn’t. It was doomed, doomed, doomed to fail. We were way too young. We had no money and no plan. We were banking on the “love is enough” theory. For the record, love is not enough.

A lot of people tried very hard to point out to us how ridiculous it was. Special dinners were scheduled where good-hearted friends tried to talk sense into us. Family meetings were held. Tearful phone calls were had. Every time I had one of these conversations where someone tried to tell me how wrong we were, I got better and better at explaining the “love is enough” theory. Every time I was confronted with how wrong I was, I explained it again and doubled down on my conviction. The more people tried to talk me out of getting married the more I owned my decision.

Then one day, three weeks before our wedding date, it happened. My mother’s prayers were answered. My soon to be husband was in the Navy and his leave was cancelled due to training. He was not going to be able to come home to get married. I was devastated. Everyone else breathed a collective sigh of relief believing it was delayed long enough that I’d have more time to come to my senses. However, I wasn’t only heart-broken. I was embarrassed and I had to save face.

I’d defended my decision to get married so many times, I couldn’t bear the idea being wrong.

So, in a set of scenes that looked a lot like a movie, I sold most of our early arrived wedding gifts, and bought a ticket to San Diego without telling anyone. My parents got wind from my friend who drove me to the airport. They tried to get there in time to stop me, but they were ten minutes too late, literally arriving as my plane was taking off. I got off the plane in San Diego and had no idea how I’d even find my soon to be husband.

Needless to say, I found him, and the next day he was shipping out. We were desperate and in a hurry to prove everyone wrong. We scoured the phone book and found the only place that would do a wedding with almost no notice and help us fudge the requirements to get the marriage license. That place happened to be a funeral home. I kid you not.
I got married on Friday the 13th in the back of a funeral chapel in a flash flood in San Diego. As if Friday the 13th was a clue, the skies literally opened up and flooded the streets. Despite all that, I tied the knot, two days before our original wedding date. Three hours later he got on a plane to fly to his training. I found a pay phone and broke the news to my family in the airport. They were “thrilled”. I was in tears. That was not what I’d pictured my wedding day to look like.

I could not be detoured. For the record, I was no longer 18. This set of joyful events happened less than a month after my 19th birthday. Happy-f*cking-birthday to me.

And this is a perfect example of best intentions having gone terribly wrong. I’m not saying I know for sure, but I suspect that if I hadn’t argued my position so many times, it would have been easier for me to be flexible with it. I’m also not afraid to admit in hindsight, it’s obvious everyone else was right. That marriage was less than awesome. My hope that we’d grow up together turned out to be very painfully growing apart.

People, as in all people, myself and you included, like to be right. Perspective is painfully powerful and always individual. When you disagree with someone and need them to see things your way, more often than not, you’re actually moving them further in the other direction because you are making them own their explanation of their position. The more practiced they become, the more convicted they get. It doesn’t take long before they are unconsciously unwilling to entertain other possibilities.

Conflict Kung Fu is a very different approach. It’s a conscious effort to communicate your thoughts without making them absolute for anyone, and most importantly without making the other person’s differing views wrong. You never force a person to defend their opinion. Instead you create a space where they can explain it without judgement. You even give up the seductive need to be understood, because that’s usually a way of manipulating someone into agreeing. Forcing someone to understand your point is the backdoor way of forcing them to acknowledge it makes sense, therefore it’s right.

Recently I was working with a couple who were on the brink of a separation over a potential move to another city. She wanted to stay in the small town they grew up in, where they put roots down, close to family. He wanted to move on to another experience and a big promotion. The arguments had become so heated they were beginning to wonder if they hadn’t grown apart long ago. How could two people who supposedly love each other, want two things that were so different? They weren’t making any progress, and a trial separation seemed inevitable, him in New York and her staying in Georgia. That would have likely turned into a permanent separation sooner, rather than later.

Here is an example of some Conflict Kung Fu.

“I hear you. You don’t want to move right now. That feels very certain to you. However, I feel like this move might give us both a lot more opportunities than we have living here. It’s a larger market. It’s a bigger city. It feels a lot like a grand adventure. The kind of grand adventure I’d like to share with you. However, for real, I don’t need to be right. I just need to keep exploring this with you, and by this, I might not even mean the move. Maybe it’s about the opportunities and adventure. We need to explore more of that.”

For real, in that moment twelve weeks of brutal warfare came to a slow roll. She wasn’t instantly wooed to New York. However, she also wasn’t feeling attacked and her need to defend her position started to relax. It also allowed him to relax. Three weeks later he turned down the job offer. They decided to spend two years exploring other parts of the country or even world on short trips and vacations, so they could explore where they might want to move. Without the pressure of the job offer in New York on the table, they both agreed they might be very interested in moving to the Pacific Northwest. Last I spoke with them they were on holiday in Portland, Oregon and were falling in love with it.

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Again, we’re human, we like to be right. We often forget we are highly motivated by a drive to get other people to see things our way. It’s easy to take that to a very wrong level, to our own detriment.
Conflict Kung Fu is a system of communicating that is without force. You don’t put the other person in a position to have to defend anything. You simply communicate and keep the door of possibility open. There is no conflict because no one has to be wrong.

The Six Steps of Conflict Kung Fu:

1. Acknowledge that you hear the other person’s position. You don’t have to pretend to agree. Just state it as you hear it so they don’t feel they need to keep repeating it. Sometimes just the realization that you’ve been heard takes pressure off.

2. Acknowledge that you realize the other person’s position is important to them. Again you don’t have to buy into it. You’re simply validating feelings. By doing this the other person can relax knowing you aren’t going to make their feelings unimportant.

3 .State how you feel and why you feel that way. A lot of people get locked into, “I want it because I want it” type conflicts. However, when they are willing to examine why they want it in conversation, that often helps the other person figure out where there might be room for compromise.

4. Acknowledge that you don’t need to be right. Surrender the need to make the other person agree or understand.

5. Ask that you keep the door open for further examination in the future, giving the other person plenty of time to contemplate and explore on their own.

6. Do not expect, need, or demand immediate resolution.

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Lisa Hayes, The Love Whisperer, is an LOA Relationship Coach. She helps clients leverage Law of Attraction to get the relationships they dream about and build the lives they want. Lisa is the author of the newly released hit book, Score Your Soulmate and How to Escape from Relationship Hell and The Passion Plan.

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