Being in a relationship can feel really tough when there is conflict. It can feel like the person who is supposed to understand you the most hurts you the most. Why do we feel so hurt by our partner? An intimate relationship is the closest type of relationship most of us will have. Once past the initial dating stage, we take certain understandings for granted. Because we are so close, unconsciously we expect our partner to understand what we need, how we feel, and how to respond. When our partner responds differently, we can feel really hurt. When hurt, instinctively we feel the relationship is in danger and this makes us more upset, which we either express or repress. Our partner often feels the same and a dance of disconnection can result. We can get stuck in patterns that don’t work because of how we try to make them work.
A relationship with lots of conflict can feel like a game of Snakes and Ladders—when things go smoothly, we are able to move to the top effortlessly. When we are able to connect and feel truly understood, life is wonderful. Just as easily, one wrong move can make us feel like we have slid all the way back to square one—to distrust, disrespect, and frustration. Ignoring issues (and conflict) creates emotional distance, yet voicing our frustration increases conflict. What is the solution then? Expressing and having your partner understand the emotional needs beneath conflict is needed. To get there, we have to get past the stuck patterns. This is like marriage in reverse. I help couples un-marry from patterns of conflict and distancing—the stances we find ourselves in when emotions run high.
Once the blocks to a good relationship are addressed, we can get into the flow of positive connection. Through understanding and empathy, it is possible to move forward in a safe and caring way and find true heart-level connection. The initial feelings which brought you together as a couple are able to shine again as negative feelings dissipate. Here are 5 Relationship Tips you can use to reduce conflict and get back that loving feeling:
- Use emotional check-ins. Don’t expect your partner to read your mind; take time every day to talk about emotional needs and wants.
- Practice listening to each other—take turns talking and when it is your turn to listen avoid defending yourself. If you hear, “It really bugs me that you never help look after the kids,” don’t respond with, “Well, you never help me when I’m busy!” Just listen, and don’t jump into problem solving—problem solving can only happen when both partners are feeling understood.
- Paraphrase—Repeat what it is you think your partner is saying without being defensive or reactive; “So, it sounds like you are feeling overwhelmed with looking after the kids and work?” Paraphrasing helps you hear the emotional need underneath the words and creates opportunities for your partner to tell you more.
- Open doors instead of closing them: Identify what you need without criticism; criticism closes the door to connection. When it is your turn to talk, talk about your needs. Instead of, “You always are on my case as soon as I get in the door,” try, “When I have had a busy day I feel tired and need 10 minutes to unwind.”
- Flowers grow when they are watered: Spend time together, complement each other (and accept the compliments), send a note to say you care. Little acts add up and over time help make a relationship secure. Focus daily on what you appreciate about your partner and avoid the temptation to add what you feel is wrong. Celebrate anniversaries, birthdays, special days. During a rough patch, do something different without expecting any return—flowers, a kind note, a foot massage.
Seek help if stuck–counselling is an investment in your relationship and can help you move out of the trenches, back into a passionate, caring connection.