Most couples face conflict. In fact, the friction is not a bad sign. Our conflicts often show us where we need to grow, what we need to overcome.
Our mates can serve as our mirror, a close view of ourselves we frankly don’t always want to see. The friction couples face provides a unique and tremendous opportunity to create “oneness out of two-ness.” This investment, this creative process of working through conflict empowers us as couples and strengthens the foundation for love to grow. Love that grows is not reserved for certain lucky people – it’s definitely not random!
Marriage, and any committed relationship, is absolutely the most difficult. The potential to bond so closely with another soul, to essentially become one, well, let’s just say - it’s a loaded relationship. Any pleasure that can take us to such lofty heights tends to come with an inherent gravitational pull, which can sink us into equal depths of darkness. This explains why our partners tend to hold the license to trigger our buttons like no one else can. The truth is that most of society doesn’t understand what it takes for love to be lasting and fulfilling. We are good at one, or the other. But both lasting and fulfilling –this becomes a perplexing enterprise.
One of the greatest barriers to love that grows is how couples handle conflict. Some couples don’t fight enough; they don’t express their needs and wants or address what hurts them. Others fight too much, consumed by the lack of appreciation, support, love or excitement they feel. Many don’t take the risk to be vulnerable, to open up. And most of us don’t know how or realize how important it is, to create a safe place for our partners to feel Vulnerable. Yes, the V-word! As uncomfortable as it can be, vulnerability is the magic ingredient in any relationship. Without a safe place to feel vulnerable with one another, we limit our ability to grow as people, and for the love to grow in our relationship.
A most common complaint couples share with me from across the couch is “We don’t know how to communicate.” I have learned this is shorthand for “We fight like cats and dogs.” How quickly small things become big things. Arguments can flame out of control in no time leading one or both partners to say or do hateful, beastly things. This explains The WALL. In some cases, couples feel desperate where they don’t know how to get back to the love they felt so easily and strongly in the beginning.
One of the most painful life experiences is to feel helpless. I am here to say there is a way out and up. It’s not easy but the effort pays off. How much emphasis do you put into your job and children? Measure that against what you put into your personal and spiritual growth and into your relationship. We need to reprogram our expectations and realize that we will receive only as much from our marriage as we put into our own growth and to becoming the kind of partner we wish we had.
Below are some soulful ways to address the difficulties in our personal conflicts. I sincerely wish that these steps and tips will help you and your partner grow ever closer, and also help you connect more closely to the best version of yourself. The first part is to prepare you by way of connecting with yourself before addressing any issues with your partner. The second part includes tips for addressing conflict once you have prepared yourself to respond in a proactive way.
PREPARE FIRST BY CONNECTING WITHIN
- Pause! Before you open your mouth or take an action, postpone reacting as you might automatically do.
- Turn within. This will begin to shift you away from focusing outside yourself to inside, thereby giving you more control. Self-awareness is power! Ask yourself:
- What is really hurting, scaring or frustrating me right now?
- What are my specific reactive thoughts and feelings?
- What dream or need am I afraid of not being met?”
- Take responsibility for your feelings (as wrong, hurtful or frustrating your partner may be) before responding. Remind yourself:
- I am accountable for my feelings, my happiness and my life.
- It’s my emotional reaction within that is my real enemy, not my partner or the situation.
- This challenge is here to help me grow – it’s ultimately for the good.
- Calm the emotional storm. Choose thoughts and actions that what will help you feel more grounded, more secure, more appreciative, more worthy, more in control. Step aside from the situation. This could mean a physical action like taking a walk or cleaning a room; mental activity such as meditation, transforming your thoughts and/or working on a mental task. Creative and sharing activities are also powerful in shifting one’s mindset and calming emotions when they feel consuming.
- Awaken love and care before you address any issues. When we come from love, we stand a chance to grow closer to the conflict. Even if we need to tell someone how their actions were hurtful, or how we want them to change, the more we come from love and a desire to help the person and the relationship, the more likely our words will be truly heard and draw us closer. Emphasize the LOVE in “tough love.” Remind yourself: Growing closer and more loving is ultimately more fulfilling than winning or being right.
- Proactively address the issue. Some suggest to even wait 3 days in some cases. Then assess how important the issue is. If you decide to address your grievance, you will likely be in a more loving place and less likely to say what you will sorely regret.
TIPS FOR PROACTIVELY ADDRESSING CONFLICT
- *Select a good time and setting to talk about the issue.
- Use a language you know your partner will hear best. This takes care.
- Do not play psychologist.
- Do not play archaeologist, do not bring up past arguments or issues.
- Bring up only one issue or grievance at a time.
- Do not refuse to talk, however, please consider steps 1-5 above before you do interact.
- No name-calling, putting down, character assassination, or physical attack.
- Accept responsibility for your actions and your feelings – stop yourself from the blame game
- Use “I” statements: “I feel __________ when you ______________ , because ______________.”Reframe any attacking “You” statements.
- efrain from generalizations, such as using words such as always, never, should.
- Make eye contact and open body language when discussing issues, put effort into making sure your partner knows you are listening and that you care.
- Actively listen: repeat what you are hearing from your partner, ask open-ended questions to learn more about their feelings and dreams and fears.
- Focus on healing not winning. Most of the time fighting comes from one or both people experiencing pain, sadness, or rejection.
- Share and commit to what you will work on to do better next time.
- Share with your partner what you appreciate about what they shared and how important it is to you that s/he open up.
Important to note:
*If your partner wants to address the issue right away when both of you are reactive, try this: “I love you and I am sure we will work this out, but I need some time to calm myself and to make sure I come from the right place. I want to work things out in the best way.”
*If your partner is speaking to you in a way that is aggressive and disrespectful, it’s okay to say, “I love you but I don’t let anyone speak to me that way. So I am happy to hear any of your feelings and what you want to say when you are calmer.”
*Make spending time together a priority, a date night and a work night. When you are neutral, discuss how things are going between you, ask each other if there is anything you would like to discuss to help us feel closer. The more proactive we are with addressing and airing concerns, the less likely they will build and cause damage.