One thing that almost all couples can relate to is conflict, and feeling regret after saying something hurtful in the heat of the moment. If you and your partner are tired of conflict that just seems to drive you apart, then this video is for you. Keep watching to learn some key things to avoid when conflict arises, so that you can feel closer and more connected!
Hi everyone, I’m Laura Brown from Heart & Oak Therapy, supporting better, brighter lives. We’re therapists who do regular videos on mental wellness, and give you practical ideas and tips to make your life happier and more fulfilling – so hit the subscribe button to keep in the loop!
In my practice, I love working with couples to help them discover new and better ways of relating to one another during conflicts. It truly is the most common reason that most couples seek my help. Let’s be honest, most people aren’t interested in learning how to communicate when they are getting along perfectly well. The problem instead, is struggling to find ways to work through disagreements in constructive ways.
It is all too common for couples to feel incredibly frustrated, hurt, and exhausted by the ways in which one or both partners treat the other when they’re fighting. For a lot of couples, the frustration of attempting to find resolution can feel impossible. So a lot of conflicts are left unresolved, with feelings of resentment and hurt piling up and disrupting their connection.
One awesome thing about couples counselling is that it can help partners quickly learn that it’s not about trying to avoid conflict – a nearly impossible feat - Instead, it’s all about finding different, more helpful ways of working through disagreements. So let’s talk about what NOT to say or do when you feel challenged by your partner.
One of the most important ways to communicate in the heat of a conflict is to avoid criticizing, attacking, and name calling. Examples of these things include:
“What’s wrong with you? Are you an idiot?! How do you not know how to do this?!” Statements like these can be on the cusp of, or outright, bonefide verbal and emotional abuse, because, to a greater or lesser degree, they are degrading, humiliating, and opporessive. If statements like these are done consistently over time, they can serve the purpose of asserting power and dominance over the other partner, as opposed to a rare expression if frustration.
Avoiding this way of communicating is so important because you cannot take words back. Once they are said, and the hurt is felt by the partner on the other end, there is a whole new issue to deal with – reconciling after a nasty attack. This kind of behaviour sets the stage for more hurt, and escalates the conflict and tension between you. It’s also problematic because it distracts you both from the original issue, which makes it harder to get to a place of resolution.
If one or both of you notice that you criticize, attack, or insult your partner during conflicts, then there are some ways to change this.
First and foremost, one of the most helpful things you can do is begin paying close attention to what you do when conflict arises. If you feel angry, afraid, or otherwise upset, slow down and assess what it is you are feeling and thinking about the situation at hand, and how you are expressing this with your partner.
Play detective and really get to know the full context of what is happening before, during, and after you criticize, attack, or insult. It can be an uncomfortable process, acknowledging and owning actions you may not be proud of, but as hard as it may be, the benefit makes this process worth it. Also, the fact that you are experiencing discomfort shows that you know this type of behaviour is wrong, and it’s worth listening to your own moral compass.
After you have a thorough understanding of what goes on for you and your partner during conflicts, and how you come to communicate with criticism, attacks, or name calling, you can begin to explore better alternatives. Consider how you want to communicate in a more desirable way that you can be proud of.
One way to do this is to explore factors that help you to communicate with kindness and compassion, even when you feel angry or hurt.
Some questions that can help you get to this place of understanding include:
- What kind of mood do you need to be in to say your piece in a kind, clear, and direct way?
- Where do you need to be?
- What do you need to do?
- What can your partner do to support you in communicating in this way?
- How can you hold yourself accountable to communicate in this way?
One thing I want to stress here is that you are absolutely responsible for your own behaviour, so if you have a hard time addressing your partner in kind ways when you feel challenged, it’s not your partner’s job to just avoid doing the things you feel challenged by – provided they are reasonable and not abusive. With the exception of abusive behaviour, you’re not being accountable if you say, “In order for me to treat you with kindness and patience, I need you to stop leaving your dirty clothes on the floor”
So, notice and assess how and when you feel challenged by your partner, consider how you can express that in clear, direct, and kind ways, and be open to working WITH your partner on making things better for both of you.
By learning to communicate with more kindness in the midst of conflict, you will build a greater level of trust, a more egalitarian dynamic, and the emotional safety to be vulnerable and to truly connect on a deeper level with your partner.
When you are able to cultivate a relationship with this type of communication, the two of you will have greater freedom to make mistakes, learn, and grow together.
I want to make one thing clear: it is absolutely possible to change the way you communicate, by putting in some attention, time, accountability, and effort.
I have been lucky enough to watch couples work together, to hear and understand one another’s positions, and find resolution in kind, respectful ways that ease frustrations and hurt feelings. Old conflicts that have yet to be resolved can be revisited and worked through to heal old hurts.
And now I’m turning it over to you, the Heart and Oak Community. What has your experience been with criticizing, attacking, or name calling during conflicts? What have you done to challenge yourself or your partner to find new, preferred ways of working through conflicts?
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Take care until next time, and keep doing the things that help you live a better, brighter life!