It’s easy to let a minor argument turn into a wildfire, here’s how to keep your cool and save your relationship.
You are sitting at work, perhaps on a golf course, or out to dinner with friends and your phone is alerting you nonstop that you have a barrage of incoming text messages from your partner. You are in the middle of yet another unresolved conflict—-but life must go on, right? The world keeps on turning so you go about your daily duties and obligations.
The conflict perhaps begun as a type of cold war, then morphed into something that feels more like something straight from the depths of a place much more fiery. You’re confused, angry, sad – mostly you just want it to stop. You cannot keep up with the messages so eventually you give up on reading them all.
This seems like complete madness, right?
I have seen this dynamic both personally and professionally to an astounding extent. So many participants in partnerships have this type of interaction monthly, maybe even weekly, and they do not fully understand it. Even if they do understand it they feel lost and confused about how to just make it stop.
Let’s break this down.
Something happens. It could be that someone forgot to do something they said that they would do, somebody maybe said something they should not have said, anything that causes that very first nanosecond of a conflict.
It’s like the striking of a match.
Assumptions may be made by one of both partners. Past conditioning may kick in — from childhood, previous relationships, or even the current relationship, and somebody experiences some type of fear on one level or another.
This can go a number of different ways from here.
One of the partners may keep their emotions in check and try to address the situation head-on with the other. Their partner may have a fear of conflict, and their fight or flight response kicks in and they do just that – they escalate the discussion into an argument or they run, emotionally, physically, or both.
Another likely scenario; the partner who addresses the conflict perhaps comes on a little bit (or maybe a lot) too strongly for one reason or another, triggering the same response as in the previous situation.
There are myriad ways that this can happen, but these scenarios are perhaps the most common.
Picture two partners sitting at a table. If both partners lean too far back, they will not be able to hear each other or likely would not even try to speak. If both partners lean in too closely and their moods and emotions are running high, things can become volatile.
The dynamic that occurs the most though during times of conflict, one partner leans back — too far back, and the other leans forward.
One person checks out. They perhaps go silent either in person or via other means of communication, and the other responds by communicating too much or too harshly.
Or, conversely, one person leans too far in and initiates the cycle by speaking and acting in ways that are overwhelming or overbearing. The other responds by leaning back just to feel as if they can think and more importantly, breathe.
The one in the relationship who is leaning forward is often seen as crazy. They sometimes exhaust themselves.
The other, who leans back, is too often perceived as not having emotions, not caring, or just someone who doesn’t “get it.”
Both partners who repeatedly participate in this dynamic share equal responsibility. If they were in reality sitting at a table, they would both be responsible for not leaning forward, not leaning back, just sitting up tall as adults who are capable of having a conversation.
If someone needs space in which to process, it is their responsibility to communicate that very early in the conflict. If this has been the dynamic for quite some time, they may even want to give their partner a certain time at which they will reconvene as a means of establishing trust that they are not just running from things indefinitely.
This trust is extremely important. This is not something that can be put off or blown off or the fire can begin to rage out of control.
We often do not see silence as being hurtful. We see the one in the partnership who is leaning back as the one who is keeping his or her cool, when in all reality this escalates things equally.
When we are intentionally withholding from our partner and not participating, we are causing suffering and allowing the fire to burn, and fires do not frequently go out on their own. They typically burn until there is no fuel left, and this is what the suppression and avoidance of these issues does.
If the house was on fire, we would not leave it to burn for very long. The conflicts with our partner can be seen in a similar manner.
If this happens though, that a partner needs space and time to process, if this is communicated, the partner who usually leans in can take this time for themselves. It is extremely important for them to be mindful to not lean forward during this time or it will just perpetuate the problem, and this can take an extreme amount of patience, especially if the dynamic is that of significant codependence.
Again, the only way to put out these conflicts which can rage through our relationships like wildfire, is for both partners to be sitting up on their own — centered and communicating appropriately.
This is not to say that emotions will not surface. After all, we are all human and it is perfectly normal and even healthy to feel in order to heal ourselves amidst these situations.
The option is there for all of us to see the role that we typically default to in our dynamic with our romantic partner. With patience and grace for both ourselves and our lover during these times both partners can slowly begin to shift hurtful reactions to that of healthy responses, so that we eventually can sit tall and put all of the flames out together.