Do you fall prey to any of these 3 no-no’s? Here’s how to handle conflict with love and grace.
Do you argue effectively? Does your partner shut down or lose their temper when you are arguing? Maybe you need to look at your approach more than their responses.
Conflict is something a lot of us have been conditioned by. How you handle conflict depends to some extent on how our family of origin argues and how we have fit into that dynamic.
Some of us “right fight” or avoid all conflict all together until we blow up. Both of these approaches to conflict are based on a dis-empowered feeling. Arguing is really both of you trying to communicate something and not doing it well.
Often in arguments happen because you are each running your own agendas. To get our agenda heard we start shutting the other person’s points down, creating dis-connect as we try to win or get our point across.
In my experience as a coach, a lot of us go into arguments without clarity about what we are feeling and how to express it. So we blame and finger pointing starts. At this point your partner is most likely to try to protect themselves because it’s human instinct to protect ourselves against attack. This is where everything goes haywire because your partner instinctively has to defend and how they do that may not even be connected to the argument.
Here are three examples I see often in my coaching practice:
When someone feels like they are losing an argument they start taking the character of the other person down instead of staying on topic about the point being argued. (In reality there is no losing an argument because an argument isn’t about winning, it’s about connecting. If it is about winning for you, you have some work to do on relating to people)
Dragging up Old History
When either of you begin adding to the conversation a reference to every time the other has made a mistake, you are on a downhill spiral and attacking your partner’s self-esteem. (Not OK in case you hadn’t guessed!) It may seem like you’re reiterating your point, however what you’re doing is distracting them from the issue you’re trying to communicate and giving them more reason to defend or avoid the argument. Indirectly rubbing in all the times your partner wasn’t good enough just causes pain.
Using Power Plays and Threats
If you say you’re going to leave, or you play games or refuse to respond to your partner, or you drag others into the conversation, or withhold time with the kids you’re exaggerating the situation and creating much bigger breaks in connection and communication. You may feel like this will get a reaction and it may, however in the long run resentment will be what your partner feels towards you, not love, safety and warmth. Think about that next time you put winning over the relationships well-being.
How to Argue Effectively Without Destroying the Relationship
Clarify your feeling and what the trigger was. Then take responsibility, it is your feeling and your experience and just because your partner’s actions triggered it does not mean they are to blame.
Identify the size of your reaction; is it proportionate to what happened? Really? (Often we have a strong emotional reaction to something, not because of it happening, but because it rubs an inner child wound or fear and we go into a child’s emotional reaction.)
Put clear words on how you feel, using “I feel/felt … when this happened …” NO BLAME. Not “when you did or you made me feel” or “you always do …” Blame simply starts the cycle of defense and attack and that’s not pretty. You can explain how their behavior affected you without making them wrong or making it their responsibility to fix. How you feel is your responsibility.
Side note: feelings are responses in your body to your thoughts, so think about the meaning you are attaching to what triggered you and ask yourself if it is factually what happened or the meaning you have attached to it. Are you reacting to a past hurt or resentment or a belief that may not be factually connected to what your partner did or said but is bringing up emotional distress just like that situation did in your past?
If you find that the same feelings rise in you and cause arguments often, I highly recommend you seek a coach or a therapist because often when we experience repetitive emotions that fuel arguments we have some underlying unhealed wound begging for attention.
I am not saying it is all on you, but we can’t change another person, our responsibility is to change how we impact the dynamic and the mess we bring to it. This will soften us and allow us to focus on connection, rather than defending or winning or proving a point.
Arguing is usually about someone wanting to be heard, understood, and validated — but because we don’t follow the process of identifying our emotions, taking responsibility for them and then communicating them clearly, we end up creating a disconnect. Our partners really do not know how to manage the 1000 points we make, it is our responsibly to be clear before we communicate and to do so in a personally responsible and compassionate way. If we do it any other way we are inviting resentment into our relationship and slowly fracturing it.
It is OK for two people to have two different views, don’t make your partner’s view wrong because it doesn’t suit your agenda, instead try to find the mutual ground that always yields better, loving results!
So next time you’re about to jump into your dynamic, take a deep breath, get clear about where you are. Focus on you, not your partner. Breathe some more.
Then ask yourself what do I need?
And don’t just say “I need respect,” it’s too aloof. We need concrete examples. Give at least three examples of how your partner could show respect in a way that you would feel it; practical, logical, and easy to explain.
When asking your partner to do these things, remember they can say no. Your partner is an individual and has a right to say no. If they say no, it is on you to decide what you are going to do about needing to feel respected. Sometimes we ask for things they can’t give us or don’t want to want to give us and we make them wrong or inferior for that, we brow beat them and that is not OK.
Take the facts into account and make a choice, but no blame or brow beating, that is an abusive choice. You either accept what someone is offering and stay or you don’t and you leave. You don’t get to stay and try to make someone else who you want them to be.
This doesn’t mean you won’t BOTH grow or change, but if your partner isn’t offering to change or grow then you don’t get to brow beat them into it.
Your partner does not own you and you do not own them (even if you are married), they have a right to a different opinion or approach and you then are responsible for how you react to that.
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