Did you know that the key to being in a healthy relationship is not the absence of fighting, but learning HOW to fight with one another?
In any long-term relationship there will be times when you do not agree with your partner. This can then lead to conflict. It is how you navigate the conflict that dictates whether you come out of it feeling closer or more distant from your partner.
The first step in developing healthier fighting patterns is learning to acknowledge the fact that you, or your partner, are dysregulated and take actions to start to address this. This may be addressed by starting to take deeper, more controlled breaths, facing your partner, lowering your voice, engaging in eye contact or physical connection (i.e. holding hands or a light hand on your partner’s knee), etc. *Sidenote: Stan Tatkin has some really good tips for how to do this.* The goal behind these actions are to emphasize to your brain and your partner’s brain that there is no threat, that you are not in danger, that you are having conflict, but that you have both chosen to show up for one another in order to work towards a solution.
By regulating yourself you will be more able to engage the next step, which is to Listen. Make an effort to ensure that other distractions are limited, as much as possible. Turn off the tv, silence your phones, etc. This allows both you and your partner to experience the feeling of putting your relationship as a priority. With the distractions now limited, you can take turns really listening to one another’s words. Listen for the pain. Where was the rub for each of you? What emotions did it bring up for each one of you?
This leads way to Empathy, which is the next step in the process. Can you put yourself in your partner’s shoes and really try and feel into what they are experiencing? Remember that you and your partner have different perspectives on the world, each built from your unique life experiences. This in turn colors the way you interpret all of your experiences. Perhaps you may experience something as humorous, while your partner takes offense, or vice versa. The goal here is to validate one another’s experience by seeking to understand how your different upbringings and life experiences caused you to interpret the situation such as you did. It is amazing how much of the anger and heat of a fight can dissipate when we feel truly listened to and understood.
The fourth step, your Response, comes about after having understood your partner’s perspective. The response step is one of seeking to mend the relationship. This may be in the form of an apology or physical contact of some sort. You may find that there is a request for the future (Please, in the future, do not _____). The response is about uniting again after being disconnected from each other.
By taking these steps into account and beginning to incorporate these practices into your relationships you will see that you can come back to the support of the relationship faster and with more ease. Relationships are work, but the more conscious effort you put into them, the greater rewards you can get out of them.
Photo courtesy of Tyler Nix on Unsplash