Posts Tagged ‘romantic relatioinships’

 A36W5JHave you ever found yourself in a fight with your spouse or significant other that was spinning out of control, and  you had no idea how to come back from it? Did you listen aghast as you each held on to your points so doggedly that you didn’t even sound rational anymore?  Perhaps the fight didn’t involve anything that truly mattered to you, but you had taken a stand and you’d be damned if you would “lose” the fight? All to often in these situations, we find ourselves unable to back down even when we want to. And now you must be wondering how to stop insane cycles like this, and just find a way to go back to being the loving, connected couple that you really are?

Well, here is a simple five step process Chris and I developed when we found ourselves getting caught in these crazy patterns that seem to have no purpose but to destroy the intimacy we work so hard to build.

1. Breathe. Seriously, stop and take a deep breath, or three. When people are upset they tend to hold their breath or breathe very shallowly. The lack of oxygen makes it harder to think straight and to get out of the fight or flight mode. You need to be able to think clearly in this moment.

2. Remind yourself that you love this person and that you want to spend the rest of your life with them. Say this first in your own mind and then repeat it out loud if possible. Don’t worry if your voice sounds tense or angry, or if you don’t feel emotionally connected to the statement. That doesn’t make it false. By reaffirming this intention to yourself and to your significant other you begin to shift from being adversaries to being partners again.

3. Ask yourself how you would feel if this were the last conversation you ever had with this person. If the action in step two wasn’t enough to bring you back to reality, this step usually is. For most people when they take this step any hardness or anger that is encasing their heart just crumbles and falls away and all they want is to make things right again. This opening gives you the chance to change the direction that you were heading in that moment.

4. Change your physical position. If you are sitting down stand up and move around. If you are already standing and moving go into a different room and sit down close enough to touch. This is a really important part of the process because we find that when people are arguing they may literally become “entrenched” in their positions. This is a form of state anchoring that we teach more about in our workshops but for now just try it out and see for yourself. Whenever you radically change your position, you change the way you are feeling. Once you have changed positions, and have found a place where you can be comfortable and close to each other move on to the last step.

5. Take turns telling each other what you are grateful for in the other person. Do this step one at a time alternating with a single statement each. Don’t stop until the internal feeling has completely changed for both parties involved into one of intense love. If you are having trouble with this step revisit steps 2 & 3. Remember you can name small things if that is all you can think of at first. One person we work with sometimes just starts with how grateful she is for her husband’s big shoulders and dark hair. Whether it’s something deep and emotional, a simple physical attribute, or a habit we find cute, be sincere and you are bound to learn something new in this step. Experiencing gratitude for each other in both big and small ways will always be a source of authentic, lasting connection.

In most cases disagreements don’t need to be settled in the very moment that the couple finds themselves fighting. Now that you have regained your balance and reaffirmed your connection and commitment to each other, you can take a break from the topic that was causing the controversy. Only revisit it when you are both able to be in a more resourceful state and when you do keep the feeling of gratitude for the other person foremost in your awareness.

Invest in your relationship by learning different techniques for handling disagreements that allow you to stay connected as a couple. And remember this is the person you want to spend the rest of your life with, treat them that way!

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At a workshop recently, as usually happens, we were asked a great question – “Is conflict always bad?” First off, no, conflict itself is not bad in and of itself. Disagreement between two parties can elicit potentially useful distinctions and strengths.

So if it’s not negative, why do relationship counselors so often struggle with, and against, conflict within an intimate relationship? Because most of us were never taught beyond a crash course how to effectively deal with our developing relationship, our assessments may be quite coarse. We may learn that “conflict” equals “fight”, equals “hurting one another”. But the truth is that it doesn’t have to mean these things. Still, our earliest, and often our only, relationship teachers, our parents, may have taught us that conflict is a bad thing, that if not avoided, can lead to disastrous results.

We noticed early on that we had different strengths we brought to our own relationship. Each of us had strategies and coping skills the other could only dream about. Moreover, each of us had opinions and experiences the other did not, resulting in different points of view. Potentially, this conflict could lead to an ugly and unsupportive turn of events.

However if you instead view it as having different skills sets, you can enrich each person’s world view and experiences with what the other has to teach us. Whereas I may have brought X skills and knowlege to the relationship, my partner brought Y and Z, each of which is powerful and useful, but when combined with my X skills, makes us a far more complete and capable team. The conflict that revealed our different contributions in this way was a positive thing. Further, when we used our varied contributions together, we were each more rich and capable.

Conflict can also show us where our strategy is lacking. I may have learned to deal with a particular situation from my father and in all prior examples, that learning was enough. But as I encounter a new challenge and try to apply the same strategy, I may become frustrated by the less than stellar results. As my partner (respectfully and lovingly!) points out the mismatch and offers some of her own experience, I may find a newly enriched strategy as a result of the discussion.

Further, conflict can expose new territory for the relationship. No matter how long you’ve been with your partner, and you may have “settled” your differences in all of the major areas (religion/spirituality, money, and politics, for instance), but who’s to say there isn’t something else, some topic about which you and your partner have never spoken? It doesn’t mean you have to agree of course on everything, but it enriches our relationships to know and understand our partner’s opinions, preferences, and convictions. So as you and your partner discuss a new topic and discover a disagreement, the focus can be on learning something new about one another. You don’t have to, and you will regret it if you try, convince the other you are right and that they should give up their opinion! The point is not homogeneity, but rather developing a more rich understanding of your partner and their mental process, values, and beliefs system.

We emphasized “respectfully and lovingly” in relation to noticing disagreement is that no one wants to be insulted or have their nose proverbially rubbed in the inadequacy of their strategy. As you learn to engage in loving and mutually respectful conflict, you can each grow a great deal, and will be able to remain open to the experience as you do not have to defend yourself. This takes skill, but if you embrace that love and respect for one another right now, you are ahead of the game.

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