When I talk about conflict repair with couples, the mechanics of it sound so easy (easy as pie-LOL) when I hear the words come out of my mouth, yet I know how impossible it is to do in the moment. Why is that?
I have talked about the idea of connection before and why it is a biological imperative for us. You can read that post here. We are wired for connection, and have a keen sense of self preservation. When we feel threatened in the moment, it is darn near impossible to not react. So I am not going to ask you to do the impossible.
Instead, I am asking you to consider a developing a new pattern to help create awareness of your reactivity, and then to look under it. Your reactionary state is when you are feeling so upset that you are unable to successfully process what is going on for you right then and there. Ask yourself what was under the story you were telling yourself in that tense moment. Let’s call it the 1-2-3 approach. That’s easy to recall, but also impossible to do in the moment when you are feeling emotionally threatened.
The Easy But Impossible 1-2-3
I know I said it is impossible, but now I am going to reassure you that it is possible with practice. By the time most couples have come to see me, they are already in trouble. At the same time, they are ready to work hard to repair the fracture in their relationship–unless it is just their last ditch effort to say “Oh we tried counseling and it didn’t work.” I want to teach you the 3 steps that lead to conflict repair. It is ‘repair’ that is key here, because when you are upset, that is when fight or flight is kicking in. The damage is done, and it needs to be repaired. Your limbic system was just doing its job when you got hot under the collar. You were either getting nasty with your attack words, and blaming the other, or you found yourself in retreat mode, unable to respond effectively due to the emotional threat of disconnection. And forget any consideration of what may be going on for our partner because the auto-leap was made to a presumed outcome. You have already decided how they will act.
So here goes. Sooo easy. To say that is.
- As soon as you are emotionally able to do so, notice your own reactionary state, that you were triggered.
- Stop and really examine why you are upset and making the demand or delivering the criticism. What is under it for you? What need isn’t getting met?
- When you have this figured out, go share that with your partner.
1. Notice. 2. Examine. 3. Share. 1-2-3. If you are actually willing to work this new pattern, the delicious thing that will happen is you will begin to repair conflicts faster! You and your partner won’t hang around simmering and shimmering with anger and regret. Try it for a couple of weeks and see what happens. Treat it like an experiment in science class. Collect your data. If it makes sense to you and works, let your partner in on it. It is up to you to do the work. No magic therapy wand will improve your relationship if you are not willing to practice new patterns in your interactions.
So conflict repair is easy but sometimes impossible–in the moment. But you can get good at going back and doing the repair.
I wish you happy and healthy conflict. Conflict will always occur in long term relationships, but you can learn and practice ways to manage it more effectively. If you need help with this, maybe some neutral eyes on the prize, shoot me an email or go to my contact page. I am in your neighborhood and ready to help.
Resource: I think this is a good book to start with if you just don’t know where to begin to evaluate the elements of a healthy relationship. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, by John Gottman and Nan Silver.