Relationships inevitably will face conflict. Whether it’s a perceived broken promise, lack of appreciation or acknowledgement, a button will be pushed and a conflict will arise. How you handle your emotions may be somewhat programmed from childhood. The modeling you received from your parents and family may show up in the heat of the moment with a detrimental effect. Typically when defensiveness, blaming, criticism and stubborn behaviors come into play, the conflict turns into a heated argument that leads to a slippery slope of fighting dirty. Bill Cloke’s article, Conflict Happens, in psychology.com says,
All couples fight, but for those who fight dirty by hitting below the belt, swearing, yelling and defending, they are usually responding to deeper emotional land mines, they just can’t see them. It’s what I describe as the “confluence of pain.” This confluence originates from emotional wounds resulting from bad experiences which surface during a fight. Couple conflicts that end in a stalemate usually originate from this kind of convergence.
The stalemate becomes a very unhealthy state as the communication ends and no healing happens. I’m not a psychologist, but as a human with emotions, I see one of the danger zones of conflict as the “stuff and blow.” Often times the stuffing leading to a full out blow up where the emotion bursts inappropriately.
Growing up, my fairly well-adjusted family may not have had the best conflict resolution techniques. Our house seemed to have a lot of yelling but nothing usually below the belt. However, a male dominated household, feelings weren’t something to be dealt with. Tuning out the other and avoiding conflict was a technique that learned and identified with. This is a typically a male technique but I picked it up as a female as I found emotions as a weakness.
So today in my relationships, I tend to stuff my emotions. The emotions may bubble up in more passive-aggressive ways because as we all know emotions will surface no matter how hard we try to ignore them. Developing relationships that are safe to discuss your emotions is hard to find. People tend to take things personally and often times become defensive when confronted with conflict. Some simple dos and don’ts can help you create more healing discussions.
- Hit below the belt. Swearing, screaming, intimidating and blaming only escalate the conflict and create deep wounds of pain, resentment and anger. Ten minutes of belt blowing can create years of wounds in your relationship. If you have a pattern of fighting dirty, you must walk away and cool down. Discuss your pattern with your partner and let him or her know that you never want to hurt him/her so if you feel that your anger cannot be properly expressed you need to remove yourself from the situation for hours if needed until you can have a loving discussion. Your partner should be supportive as you are looking out for the good of the relationship by acknowledging your patterns.
- Bring up old wounds. If there is an issue bothering you, focus on the issue at hand and don’t drudge up past hurts. Digging up all the dirt is again dirty fighting and is not sustainable.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. In my experience, pretty much all conflict is based on stupid stuff such as she always leaves his clothes on the floor or the toothpaste cap off. These small things are nothing. Sometimes you may get caught up in control or resentment so you focus on these insignificant things when really you are not communicating what is really bothering you.
- Refuse to apologize. Any conflict takes two to tango. Regardless if you feel you didn’t do anything wrong, most often both parties had a role to play in the conflict. Refusing to apologize for your part in the conflict can create longer term resentments. A simple apology can go a long way.
- Own your feelings. When you discuss your conflict you should start with “I feel” statements. I worked with children while in college and we taught them conflict resolution by starting with “I feel” statements. Instead of saying, “He stole the ball,” and blaming the other guy, the child was taught to say, “I feel angry because it was my turn for the ball.” The “I feel” statement helped the child own his or her feelings without the blame game. If you have a hard time understanding your feelings, take time to walk away and journal or discuss your emotions with a trusted friend. Get to the point that you can make a statement that articulates your feelings such as “I feel hurt and unloved when I work very hard to provide for the family and I don’t receive any appreciation.” Typically when we are angry, we jump to judgment, blame and criticism. Notice how your blood boils when you hear a blaming statement like, “It’s always all about you. You are just like your mother/father. You are such an asshole. You think the world revolves around you. I’m sick of this relationship.” A quick way to destroy any relationship is to make the fighting below the belt. Take the time to get to a feeling statement that is true to owning your feelings instead of blame, shame, guilt and punishment of the partner you are supposed to love.
- Take a time out if needed. If you find yourself reaching for the blow the belt and you cannot articulate verbally, take a time out and write it down. Make sure you own your feelings and eliminate the blame and defensiveness. Hand it to your partner as a starting point for a healing conversation. While you are taking a time out, remember all the reasons why you love that person in the first place.
- Acknowledge the other person’s feelings and listen. Many commonly react in defense toward another person expressing his or her feelings. Instead of hearing that person and acknowledging his or her feelings, you may jump into defense or criticizing. It takes a lot to set our own egos aside and acknowledge someone. Next time you feel yourself jumping to defend, stop and notice how you feel. Is your blood pumping? Is your mind racing with blaming and shaming thoughts? Is revenge top of mind? The first step in overcoming the negative patterns is to recognize it. Stop, take deep breaths and listen with empathy.
- Remember why you love that person. You entered your relationship due to love and affection for your mate. You obviously wouldn’t give your love to just anyone, so this person has to be special. Remember the reasons why you loved him or her in the first place. Time is fleeting and shouldn’t be wasted on petty conflicts. A young man that I met a few months ago recently died of cancer. He was very young and newly married. I feel great sadness that he didn’t have time to experience so much with his young love. His unfortunate fate is a harsh lesson for all of us of how precious we should hold our life and loved ones. Why do we allow ourselves to get caught up in small conflicts? I think no one should allow the person you love to go to bed angry or upset. In the heat of the moment stop and ask yourself how you would treat your mate if this was his or her last day on earth with you? Never leave mad or allow him or her to hold anger. Life is fleeting and you may face the harshest reality someday by not choosing love over anger.
- Forgive. At the end of the day your relationship is a partnership. You are on the same team. A successful team needs to have a safe, trusting place to be open and accept each other. Even if you cannot change one another, you can acknowledge each other’s feelings, forgive and move on. Apologizing is a great first step on the path toward forgiveness.
Relationships are not always easy. But like a garden, it needs to be tended to and nurtured. If you piss on your garden everyday, it may die. The same will happen to your relationship. Love it, nurture it, cherish it and it will flourish.
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