How to Navigate Conflict With Your Partner

How to Navigate Conflict With Your Partner
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Conflict is something that’s been simmering on my mind for a while now, specifically conflict within a romantic partnership.

For a long time, I felt that fighting with your significant other meant there were problems in paradise. And sure, constant arguing and unhealthy communication may signal that this isn’t working, but let’s be real—conflict is inevitable, no matter how great you guys are together.

And avoiding it doesn’t help anyone, either.

In these moments, we become reminded, yet again, that a partnership is two completely different and complex individuals coming together to share space, time and energy with each other. Shit’s bound to hit the fan at some point.

I recently found myself in a situation where I faced conflict with someone I care about, and as frustrating as the conversation may have been, I walked away feeling great about what happened. And I’ll tell you why in a second…

In the past, conflicts with men in my life were such a shit-show. They would yell, become physically or verbally abusive, refuse to take responsibility and try to flip the script on me, or just become so incredibly abrasive that I began to fear speaking up for myself, because I didn’t want to deal with confrontation. Pair that with my abandonment issues, anxiety and irrational thought that I’m constantly a burden, and you got a girl who loathed conflict.

Clearly, over the years, I’ve done a lot of work to not only reframe those beliefs in my mind, but also repair my relationship with conflict. Because like I said, they’re inevitable.

So, instead of running away from what could make us stronger, I wanted to make sure that I was equipped with the right tools to navigate these rocky waters as best as possible.

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Now, back to my recent experience.

What I appreciated about that interaction was that it gave me a sneak peek on how we each showed up to the conversation and how we handled it. As hurtful and uncomfortable as some moments may have been, the entire experience was rooted with respect and mutual care. We acknowledged where we each messed up, we were open and honest, we practiced active listening, and we always returned to the simple fact that this person sitting across from me is someone I care about, and that’s what matters most.

We would never have known any of this had the conflict not come up.

Through my experiences with conflict, I’ve learned a few things:

  • Save the conversation for an in-person meeting. Text or phone calls tend to make it worse.

  • Face each other when you’re speaking.

  • Physical touch (hand holding, a hug, etc.) can be a great way to remind each other that you’re on the same side. After all, it’s you both vs. the problem, not you vs. them. However, also be mindful that they may not want to be touched in that moment for whatever reason, and respect that boundary.

  • If you need to pause and take a breath, do it.

  • If you need to step away for a second, let your partner know. But don’t leave mid-argument and just vanish. Communicate.

  • Become OK with being at fault. Regardless of whether or not you feel like you’re wrong, acknowledge and validate your partner’s experience, which may differ from yours.

  • Watch your tone and word choice. If you come guns blazing, prepare for a complete shutdown or a defensive attack.

  • Use “I feel” statements (ex: I feel disrespected and neglected when you don’t uphold your commitments with me.)

  • Remember your goal. What are you hoping to achieve by this conversation?

I encourage you to approach any upcoming conflicts as a learning opportunity. Because that’s really what it is. Observe what actions or behaviors you resort to when you’re in the hot seat, and make note of how your partner makes you feel while they express themselves to you. If there are areas for improvement, great! Work on that together.

And if you need help, here are some tips that I’ve found very helpful from my friend and relationship coach Silvy Khoucasian:

1️⃣ SET A BOUNDARY TO ONLY DISCUSS IMPORTANT ISSUES IN PERSON. . . We are extremely limited in our ability to help regulate our partner via phone or text. Unless we know both parties sensitivities deeply and can communicate to them in ways that work sufficiently for both partner's, I would highly suggest keeping heated talks in person. Why? Because when we bring up important conversations, we can spike up our own or our partner's arousal system without realizing it, which can then cause us to stay flooded long after conversations have ended. . . 2️⃣ HAVE YOUR BODIES FACE EACH OTHER WHENEVER YOU SHARE CONCERNS. . . Our eyes are extremely regulating during conflict. They help to humanize one another in moments when our brains want to turn our partner into our enemy. . . 3️⃣ TAKE A (PAUSE) WHENEVER YOU OR YOUR PARTNER HITS YOUR EMOTIONAL (LIMIT). . . We all have a "window of tolerance" for emotional experiences. If you grew up in a family system where conflict was handled in a healthy way, you likely have a wider window of tolerance to handle difficult feelings. If you grew up in a family where conflict was handled aggressively or avoided, you probably have a smaller window of tolerance. The good news .. is that taking breaks during intense conversations at the (beginning sign) of discomfort can help us grow this window. If we try to push ourselves or our partner to "stay in it" even when they begin to dissociate or get overwhelmed, we are doing a major disservice. . . 4️⃣ FOCUS ON (CONNECTING) and (COMFORTING) BEFORE GOING INTO PROBLEM-SOLVING. . . This is a (big) one. When we focus on creating mutual safety and understanding (first) .. healthy solutions come much more naturally as a byproduct of that context. It's normal to want to jump into "fixing" things in the middle of a Conflict. But I suggest you wait on that. Allow the focus to be on mutual vulnerability, and on mutual caring and concern for just a little while longer, even if it feels counterintuitive or uncomfortable. Once you feel connected, you can go into practical problem solving mode. #coachingwithsilvy . . What am I missing? What else helps you stay connected during conflict?

Words matter a lot. There are words that heal us after a conflict, and then there are words that activate our defenses even more. This is real stuff you guys .. and it is a skill we can all absolutely learn if we want to. And let me add .. this is a practice. Learning our partner and what works to soothe them is very specific to their wounds. . . Each of us has a hidden treasure chest of words and gestures that unlocks our heart after we have been hurt. Each of us has pain points that need to be addressed and validated in a gentle way in order to create connection and safety again. If our perspective has been invalided over and over again .. we may need our logic validated after a fight. If our feelings have been dismissed .. we may need our feelings prioritized and cared for. . . Whatever we require, emotion has to be included in the equation in order for it to register as a healthy repair. Logic can help ground us to safety .. but it doesn't create the emotional atmosphere we need to re-connect with our partner after a fight. We are (emotional beings) after all. . . Some of us may also prefer a soothing touch, or loving facial expression over words. That's totally fine. This is not a one size fits all kind of thing. We each get to find what works for us. We each get to learn how to communicate the hidden keys of our heart to our partner so we don't keep those treasures to ourselves. . . My personal favorite phrase that always comforts me is "your feelings matter to me." It always has been that one. It gives me permission to feel my range of feelings without feeling judged, especially when it is expressed through a caring heart. It breaks through my defenses and makes me feel deeply seen and embraced by my partner. . . What works for you? What kind of presence, or phrase, or touch do you need to feel safe and connected after a conflict? @silvykhoucasian