conflict

Stop Making Things Worse in Conflict

Okay, no one likes being stuck in negative conflicts with someone you love.  For too many couples, cyclical stuck arguments are all too familiar.  

I've been posting about conflicts in relationships for a couple weeks, so if you've been reading along you're familiar with the mindset necessary to shift stuck conflicts, but you might be looking for a step two.  You can get release judgment, but then what?

Imagine your conflict pattern is a train on a track.  Most of the couples I work with know every stop on the line, "First you say something grouchy, then I snap back.  Then you stomp around and sulk a while and I pick at the issue until you explode. Then we both yell until I cry. Then you storm off and we try to give it time. We're usually both totally pissed off at that point."

If you don't already know your typical conflict patterns it can be helpful to draw them out like a map.  Name each stop on your train track with a behavior one of you might take.  You might label, raised voice, stomped feet, sarcastic comment, attempted apologies, blame, name-calling, and so on.  Try to be as objective as possible as you name each stop.  

Imagine your conflict is a train speeding down that track. Notice (if your conflict is like anyone else's) how it picks up speed at each stop. Now imagine what might happen if you stopped the train before continuing to the known next stop. What might happen if you slow it down or stop the train completely?

In order to stop making the conflict worse, we have to identify our own contributions to the conflict pattern, imagine a different path or outcome, and start aligning our behaviors to the new path. I'll go into each of these more below:

IDENTIFYING YOUR CONTRIBUTION

Once you name the behaviors you can easily identify your contributions to the pattern.  When you start seeing yourself do these in real time try to slow down and be more intentional with your words and actions. 

Visualize the consequences of giving in to your destructive or impulsive urges in conflict. The clearer you can be about the unwanted results of your own contributions to the conflict the less likely you will be to repeat them.

When those urges arise try to sit with them and just observe your behavior.  Notice what happens in your body and where you find resolution or lodge resentment.  You can add this to your train map for deeper awareness.  

Be sure to notice what helps you release the tension or choose more peaceful responses.  That information can help you re-connect with yourself and stay grounded in future tough conversations.

You cannot change your partner's behavior, but you can shift yours.  Instead of defaulting to your usual pattern, try to slow your pace to create breathing room for new results.

IMAGINE A DIFFERENT PATH

Focus on the consequences of continuing to fight this way.  Notice the consequences of attacking back.  Recognize that each attack or defense you contribute continues the stuck pattern you say you want to shift.  Once again, you cannot change your partner's behavior, but you can shift yours.  

Reflect on the values you hold dear personally (you can download a values self-check here).  Ask how the stuck conflict pattern aligns with your values.  Notice which values are out of alignment with this pattern. 

Reflect on your desired outcome for the conflict, how does your pattern align with the outcome?  How could your behavior better align with what you really want?

Imagine instead of attacking and defending in the ways you have in the past, you interact in better alignment with your values.  Imagine yourself more courageously acting in alignment with the values you hold and the outcomes you desire. 

Imagine yourself feeling proud you changed your contribution to the conflict pattern.  Envision you and your partner more peacefully ending the conflict cycle.

ALIGN YOUR BEHAVIORS WITH INTENTION

If you haven't had a different kind of conflict in a while (or ever) it can be really challenging to change the way you engage in it.  Visualize the positive consequences of riding out your defensive or attacking urges.

Create a vision of yourself responding in a way that leaves you feeling confident (not righteous), understood, and connected to your partner.  Imagine what you might say to end the conflict with grace and care.

Start by rehearsing a new ending to your conflicts in your head.  Here are a couple phrases to try:

  • "I hate fighting the way we have in the past. I want to have a different kind of conversation with you."  
  • "I want to be more intentional in conflicts with you.  Let me take a break to think this through and come back to it in ten minutes when I have a cool head."
  • "I really care about you and us and I'm confused and overwhelmed in this conversation right now.  Let me take a minute to think."
  • "I don't like the way we fight and I don't want to keep fighting this way."
  • "I feel sad/afraid/lonely/confused and want to feel more sure/confident/connected/peaceful."
  • "I love you and feel like we're starting our usual conflict pattern.  I don't want to fight like that anymore."
  • "I think I'm heading to a negative/unkind/defensive place in this conversation.  Let me take a lap around the block to calm down and get in a better headspace."

Practice stepping back instead of into or against your partner's aggression in the conflict to realign with your values and desired outcome. How does this impact the result of your conflict?  

You can interrupt stuck conflict cycles, but it takes awareness, intention, and courage.  The more you become aware of the steps in your conflict pattern (yes, actually write or draw them out) the better equipped you will be to interrupt them.  And the clearer you are about the behaviors you'd like to choose instead of attacking or defending the more likely you'll employ more caring values-based actions.  


CHANGE YOUR COMMUNICATION PATTERNS

Are you inspired to change the way you communicate in conflicts?  Three ways to change your relationship to conflict for good:

  1. Lots of the information in this article draws from a great book on relationships.  Its a super quick read and a really easy listen to audiobook.  Get your copy of High Conflict Couple here (its' great even if you're not necessarily "high conflict").

  2. Download my Fight Better Guide for Couples.  Totally free.  Get it in my Relationship Resource Library right here

  3. Call me for a free consult.  Sometimes it helps to talk it through with a neutral third party to make changes that last.  I'll happily share resources or support you as a coach.  Let's talk.


 Gina Senarighi has been supporting loving couples and healthy teams for nearly twenty years. As a former couples therapist turned retreat coach, workshop facilitator, and author she's transformed partnerships, leaders and communication strategy all over the world.    Her uniquely non-judgmental, inclusive approach to couples work puts even the most concerned participants at ease.  She's not your average sit-and-nod supporter- she'll hold hope even when it's hard and always help you grow.     Call for a consultation to see how she can help you deepen connection, communicate effectively, and passionately reignite your relationship.

Gina Senarighi has been supporting loving couples and healthy teams for nearly twenty years. As a former couples therapist turned retreat coach, workshop facilitator, and author she's transformed partnerships, leaders and communication strategy all over the world.  

Her uniquely non-judgmental, inclusive approach to couples work puts even the most concerned participants at ease.  She's not your average sit-and-nod supporter- she'll hold hope even when it's hard and always help you grow. 

Call for a consultation to see how she can help you deepen connection, communicate effectively, and passionately reignite your relationship.

Tools to Interrupt Conflict Patterns

Last week I wrote a post about conflict patterns that seems to have stirred things up for some of you.  Particularly when I talked about validation's role in resolving conflicts.  I wanted to write a little more this week to help you understand and implement validation effectively in your conflict cycles.

You can read what I wrote last week here.

Validation is not the same as agreement.  We can validate each other's perspective or experience and still disagree. 

You like anchovies on pizza and I do not is a great simple example.  If I won't validate your pizza preference I might ask you to explain why you like anchovies, or make fun of other people who like that topping, or belittle you for having that preference.  I can tell you how unreasonable it is or how I've never met anyone who really liked anchovies. 

Of course, none of that will help us order an actual pizza or feel close. Simply stating a perspective without judgmental language or interpretation can be validating.  "You prefer anchovies and I prefer cheese." Is a simple way of validating their perspective.

Although you're unlikely to take pizza choice personally, it's easy to see how we can disagree, acknowledge each other's perspective as valid at the same time. 

There are a number of ways we can validate a perspective.  Knowing these can give you options when you're feeling stuck in a conflict and want to find a way back to being connected.

Emotions

Understanding your partner's emotions is critical to connection and longevity in relationships. It's also the foundation of empathy, without which relationships cannot survive. Here are a few examples of validating emotions:

  • "You feel sad when we talk about this."
  • "I think what you're saying is, you're overwhelmed or worried about this.  Is that right?"
  • "So you're confused by this too." 
  • "Are you saying you're frustrated by ____?"

Beliefs

Everyone has opinions, and everyone is entitled to them.  But hen they become controversial in relationships it can be a real challenge to sort through and maintain connection.  Here are a few ways to validate their beliefs (even if you disagree):

  • "You absolutely have a right to your opinion."
  • "I know you have a different way of doing this."
  • "You've clearly got a solid opinion about this."
  • "I hear you've been thinking about this for a while."

Desires

Knowing your partner's wants or desires helps them feel heard and understood in conflict.  It also helps you support them in getting needs met or soothing when they're disappointed. You might say something like:

  • "You really want to go on that vacation."
  • "I know having quiet time together really matters to you."
  • "I hear you that you want more help around the house."
  • "Having more sex is important to connection for you."

Actions

All too often we overlook the specific actions and behaviors our partners take.  When we miss these they can feel unacknowledged and underappreciated and it can lead us to grow resentful.  Start taking note of specific actions to validate their experience.  Here are some options:

  • "I saw you reading. What's that book about?"
  • "You said your back hurt earlier.  How are you feeling now?"
  • "Thanks for bringing this up."
  • "I so appreciate you folding the laundry with me."

Pain

It can be super challenging to focus on our partner's pain or suffering (especially when we might have caused some of it).  Most of us work hard to avoid suffering and want to fix it right away.  However, by acknowledging the pain we can be vulnerable and deepen trust in the relationship.  Here are some examples for you to try:

  • "I can see you're hurting."
  • "I know this week has been really stressful."
  • "Honey, I'm sorry you're in pain."
  • "This has been so hard on you."

CHANGE YOUR COMMUNICATION PATTERNS

Are you inspired to change the way you communicate in conflicts?  Three ways to change your relationship to conflict for good:

  1. Lots of the information in this article draws from a great book on relationships.  Its a super quick read and a really easy listen to audiobook.  Get your copy of High Conflict Couple here (its' great even if you're not necessarily "high conflict").

  2. Download my Fight Better Guide for Couples.  Totally free.  Get it in my Relationship Resource Library right here

  3. Call me for a free consult.  Sometimes it helps to talk it through with a neutral third party to make changes that last.  I'll happily share resources or support you as a coach.  Let's talk.

SHIFT YOUR COMMUNICATION PATTERNS IN A FREE CALL

 Relationship Coach  Communication Coach

Gina Senarighi has been supporting loving couples and healthy teams for nearly twenty years. As a former couples therapist turned retreat coach, workshop facilitator, and author she's transformed partnerships, leaders and communication strategy all over the world.  

Her uniquely non-judgmental, inclusive approach to couples work puts even the most concerned participants at ease.  She's not your average sit-and-nod supporter- she'll hold hope even when it's hard and always help you grow. 

Call for a consultation to see how she can help you deepen connection, communicate effectively, and passionately reignite your relationship.

How to Let Go of Judgment in Relationships

I've been writing a series on conflict in relationships for a bit and wanted to take today to look more closely at the role of judgment in conflicts.  All too often when couples are stuck in a conflict stalemate judgment is playing a role.  

So learning to change the role of judgment can shift conflict patterns in significant ways.  Here's how to do it:

LEARN TO IDENTIFY JUDGMENTS

Before we can shift judgments role in our relationships we have to get confident at identifying when judgment is present.  You can use the following conversation flags to notice judgment is present:

  • Right/Wrong & Good/Bad - Narrows the focus of the conversation to defend against judgment
  • Should - Should implies right/wrong or good/bad and often results from unsolicited advice  
  • Enough/Not Enough - Measuring and evaluating are a great examples of judgment
  • Always/Never - Often indicate we're coming from a place of judgment
  • Comparison - is a form of evaluation that forces us to leave the present moment to think about other people or situations

RELEASING SELF-JUDGMENT

It is often easier to start implementing non-judgment practices within than with others.  Start by noticing your own experience without judgment. Just describe how things feel, taste, smell, or sound. 

Notice your body's experiences without trying to change or critique what's happening.  Just describe and experience it as is.

SORTING JUDGMENTS IN NEUTRAL MOMENTS

Before applying non-judgment in heated exchanges, use neutral situations to build your skills.  Notice your thoughts that evaluate, compare, measure or critique and start shifting them to observation. 

"This pizza is really good. The crust is perfect" (good and perfect are judgments) becomes "This pizza is hot, salty, and cheesy. The crust is crispy. It reminds me of slumber parties in my childhood. I want another piece."  

"The floor here is really gross. Do they ever clean?" (gross is a judgment, their cleaning practice is interpretation) becomes "The floor is sticky.  I can see drip marks and lint on it."

SAVOR YOUR RELATIONSHIP

Part of building patterns of non-judgment is learning to observe without interpretation even in non-conflictual situations.  Notice and describe your partner judgment-free in joyful and peaceful situations is just as important to cultivating new conflict skills as focusing on more challenging moments.  

Try describing what your partner is doing during even mundane moments (cooking, folding laundry, sleeping, or reading).  Commit yourself to observing instead of evaluating (right/wrong, good/bad) and when your reactions arise notice them but refocus back on observing your partner.

MINDFUL LISTENING

You can also begin a practice of mindful listening. Instead of planning your response or observing only your reactions, stay fully present with your partner's process while they talk. 

Listen for deeper understanding focusing only on your partner's thoughts, feelings, and desires.  If you notice your attention shift to yourself, the future, or the past, try to draw your attention back to simply hearing what's being said.

DESCRIBE IN HEAT

Once you've built up the practices above, start applying description instead of judgment when you notice anger or judgment between you and your partner.

"You're suck a jerk.  You always cut me off.  I hate the way you interrupt me!" becomes "I wasn't finished talking.  I want to finish what I was saying."

"Stop yelling. I hate when you lose control like this." becomes "I hear you raising your voice and I feel myself shutting down." 

 

CHANGE YOUR COMMUNICATION PATTERNS

Are you inspired to change the way you communicate in conflicts?  Three ways to change your relationship to conflict for good:

  1. Lots of the information in this article draws from a great book on relationships.  Its a super quick read and a really easy listen to audiobook.  Get your copy of High Conflict Couple here (its' great even if you're not necessarily "high conflict").

  2. Download my Fight Better Guide for Couples.  Totally free.  Get it in my Relationship Resource Library right here

  3. Call me for a free consult.  Sometimes it helps to talk it through with a neutral third party to make changes that last.  I'll happily share resources or support you as a coach.  Let's talk.

 

 RELATIONSHIP COACH | COUPLES RETREAT

Gina Senarighi has been supporting loving couples and healthy teams for nearly twenty years. As a former couples therapist turned retreat coach, workshop facilitator, and author she's transformed partnerships, leaders and communication strategy all over the world.  

Her uniquely non-judgmental, inclusive approach to couples work puts even the most concerned participants at ease.  She's not your average sit-and-nod supporter- she'll hold hope even when it's hard and always help you grow. 

Call for a consultation to see how she can help you deepen connection, communicate effectively, and passionately reignite your relationship.

How to Interrupt Stuck Conflict Communication Patterns (Part 1)

Look, I'll be the first to admit conflict is needed in healthy relationships.  It serves us to have boundaries and differ from our sweetheart.  It's critical we can say when something's not working, sit with that discomfort and come through it together.

But most of us have only experienced negative, unresolved and hurtful conflict.  It's hard to imagine what healthy conflict looks like in loving relationships. 

I've been focusing a large part of my work on shifting conflict and communication patterns in intimate relationships for ten years, and in that time I've rarely encountered anyone who feels confident in their conflict resolution skills.  

So I decided to spend a little more time focusing this blog on conflict in couples, with the hope I can help more of you face conflict directly and lovingly so you reach a resolution and connection more easily.  

I want to start by going over three critical global shifts you need to make to adjust the nature of conflicts in your relationships.  Once you and your love have a hold on these you will start seeing conflict resolve more quickly and compassionately in a very short time.  

Start Paying More Attention to Yourself Than Your Partner

The first issue most of us get caught in during conflict is a hyperfocus on what our partner is or isn't doing and the interpretations we're making about them.  The first issue this brings up is it leaves us out of connection with ourselves.  Often we can end up reacting to conflict from a pure state of emotion- without much grounded or rational thought.  

It also centers our interpretations, instead of what we want.  Interpretations are important, but they are often assumption-based and can be very unforgiving.  Notice what happens when you're interpreting or assuming vs when you're focused on your own experience, reactions, and behavior. 

Finally, focusing on them stops us from reflecting on our contributions to the problem.  The only way to unlock a cycle of blame in a conflict is to move toward personal accountability.  What can you do differently to move forward?  Ask this of yourself next time, instead of focusing on what you'd like your partner to do.

Stop Making Things Worse

Lots of conflicts become piles of hurt quickly due to quick thoughtless reactions and mounting hopelessness.  Let's look at how you can resolve things without adding more hurt to the mix. 

Start by committing to intentionality and mindfulness during the conflict. Notice when you've stopped being mindful and find ways to re-focus or take a break in the conflict to soothe and then return to the conversation later for resolution.  Don't just drop it or avoid it, but stay mindful of the outcome you'd like to see at the end of the conversation. 

You can also begin rethinking your bigger story about conflict between you.  Imagine what a healthy conflict might feel like.  Picture, in detail a gentler, more loving resolution.  And start practicing the emotional responses you're willing to contribute to moving in that direction.  

The more you can visualize the negative consequences of giving in to your reactive (sometimes destructive) urges, and the positive consequences of interacting differently, the more easily you'll start changing the way you show up in the conflict pattern.

Even if your partner isn't willing to change their patterns, just by shifting your contribution to the conflict your conflicts will begin to take new shape.  Stick with it.

Validation and Conflict Resolution

Couples who move more easily through conflict toward resolution more easily validate each other's perspective - even if they deeply disagree.  Learning to validate is essential to changing conflict patterns.  

So what if you disagree?  Validating a viewpoint is not the same as agreeing. 

If my partner wants to go out to brunch with friends, and I want to cancel to stay in bed and snuggle we can disagree while validating each other by saying "I know you really want to sleep in and we rarely get to do that anymore." and "We haven't been out to your favorite restaurant or seen those friends in a long time. I know it's your favorite Sunday activity." 

Notice the lack of "but" in those sentences.  We simply start by validating each other's viewpoint.  Adding "...but I still want to go out/stay in." takes the power out of the original validation. 

Of course this leaves us with more to discuss to resolve the issue, but it gets the conversation started in the right direction.  

Sometimes it's easy to get hooked into evaluating your partner's perspective.  One of you thinks the other's perspective is trivial or out of proportion with the situation.  Or you'd never react in that same way. 

No matter your judgment about it's validity or if you have the same perspective, accepting your partner's viewpoint is essential to move on.  Evaluating, judging, or comparing it to another's experience/viewpoint will only stall or stop the conflict on route to resolution (and likely leave more hurt).

CHANGE YOUR COMMUNICATION PATTERNS

Are you inspired to change the way you communicate in conflicts?  Three ways to change your relationship to conflict for good:

  1. Lots of the information in this article draws from a great book on relationships.  Its a super quick read and a really easy listen to audiobook.  Get your copy of High Conflict Couple here (its' great even if you're not necessarily "high conflict").

  2. Download my Fight Better Guide for Couples.  Totally free.  Get it in my Relationship Resource Library right here

  3. Call me for a free consult.  Sometimes it helps to talk it through with a neutral third party to make changes that last.  I'll happily share resources or support you as a coach.  Let's talk.


Gina Senarighi Relationship Coach | Communication Consultant

Gina Senarighi has been supporting loving couples and healthy teams for nearly twenty years. As a former couples therapist turned retreat coach, workshop facilitator, and author she's transformed partnerships, leaders and communication strategy all over the world.  

Her uniquely non-judgmental, inclusive approach to couples work puts even the most concerned participants at ease.  She's not your average sit-and-nod supporter- she'll hold hope even when it's hard and always help you grow. 

Call for a consultation to see how she can help you deepen connection, communicate effectively, and passionately reignite your relationship.

Relationship Advice: Keep Your Conversation Fresh

One of the most important things we can do in a couple is continue to learn about one another.  When we stop being curious and start making assumptions about the people in our lives we start running into problems.  

Take some time over the weekend to get to know this person in a new way by asking these ten simple questions.

Even if you think you know their answer, ask and see if their response has changed or grown since you last checked in.  Try to accept their answers with warmth (the goal is to create openness for more sharing).  

It might be exciting to learn how your partner has changed over time.  These work well on a first date too!

Ask your sweetie:

1.  Do you look more like your mother or father?  How?

2.  Which of your parents are you closer to?

3.  Whats the most important lesson your parents taught you?

4.  What qualities make a good parent?

5.  Do you wish anything were different about your relationship with your parents?

6.  Who mentored you as a child?

7. Who was your hero growing up?

8. What influence should our families have in our relationship?

9.  What values have you held onto from your upbringing?

10.  If you could change anything about your childhood, would you?  What would you change?

(Check out previous conversation starters here)

I am so excited to hear from you about the conversations these ignite.  Leave a comment below and let me know!

Revenge to Compassion: Six Steps to Repair Hurt Hearts

One of the best books on forgiveness and reconciliation is Laura Davis's "I Thought We'd Never Speak Again"  I have read it and recommended it so many times to clients and readers in difficult places.   Although the book focuses on the experience of abuse survivors and their families, there are really amazing lessons on compassion for all of us regardless of our survived traumas.   It has helped my clients with break-ups, moves, family relationships and bad bosses.

I am not suggesting reconciliation is always the answer (neither does this author), only that it is very important to move from pain toward compassion over time .  More and more scientific research is showing that carrying pain and resentment has real effects on our health and well-being.  It is critical to our ability to create new partnerships, friendships, and lead in organizations.

So how do you move toward compassion when you're in a place of hurt?  Pause and reflect on these six steps in a conflict in your own life and then move with warmth and openness (I can't emphasize this part enough)  in each step when you are ready:

1.  Speak out.

Shame often comes to visit either or both party after a disagreement and can work to isolate us further.  The greatest antidote to shame is to reach out to another for support, or to offer a genuine apology.  It can be helpful to acknowledge how hard it is to reach out, and share that you still really want the connection even though its hard.  The more transparent and consistent you can be the better.   Even if time and shame have kept you apart reaching out (with warmth and openness) directly can help to repair broken bonds.

2. Humanize each other.

Remember that everyone carries some hurt and often conflict comes out of misunderstood pain.  Listen authentically to the story of  other party (with warmth and openness).  Demonstrate your listening by offering to paraphrase back what you hear to be sure you are really getting it and don't rush.  Some hurts can take a bit to surface clearly so be patient.  Remember the sweetness, good humor, and shared values that brought you together in the first place.

3. Consider the ways you have demonstrated behavior similar to your "enemy."

It's not easy to do, but we must remember that in certain circumstances we all have the capacity to do the wrong thing.  We have all made mistakes in friendships and relationships.  Remembering this and forgiving ourselves for past similar wrong doing  helps us move forward.

4. Connect with sadness.

You cannot bandage a wound without looking at it and you cannot repair a relationship without looking at the sadness that happens when someone is hurt.  It is important for both parties to acknowledge and really connect with their sadness (no matter how small it may seem) in order to move forward with confidence.

5. Honor your memories.

Honor the greatness that you have in the past with care.  Some couples do this informally over conversation, some partners have shared memory books, one set of roommates I worked with painted memories on the walls of their co-op before moving on to a new place after much strife.  Whether formal or informal, honor your shared history before moving on to your next chapter.

6. Commit to future acts of service and/or creation.

Planning to make something beautiful or invest in others together can be a great way to heal together and individually.  These can be acts of service and creation within the relationship (planting a garden together, planning a trip) and acts directed towards your external community (hosting a dinner party, volunteering for a cause you care about .  Setting future positive plans together will change the nature of your time together fundamentally.

These steps can be taken on your own or in relationship.  It can be very helpful to build compassion on your own even if you never decide to connect with the other person.  Sharing your story with an empathetic ear, humanizing your "enemy," honoring grief and memories, and taking part in service and creative acts will help your heart heal on its own and will help free you from the weight of contempt that builds without compassion.

These steps will work differently for each and every reader who visits my post.  Let me know how they apply for you below.

Five Questions for Clarity: Kiss it Goodbye or Kiss and Make Up?

Part of working with beautifully complex couples means working through really difficult problems.  I have seen it all, break ups, affairs, forgiveness, and reconciliation.  People often ask me if I believe they can make it through these difficult times.  It would be so much easier if there was one right answer.

I have seen people make it through unbelievably challenging situations with remarkably resilient relationships after everyone in their support network gave up and I've watched pairs with great support networks and resources and kindness choose not to be together and build beautiful divorces.  And I have seen people make messy choices along the way that make reconciliation extremely unlikely.

I believe it's especially beneficial to work with a coach or counselor in emotionally heated times but while I can try to make predictions, the truth has to come from within the couple.  Prediction isn't really in the counseling job description anyway.

So how do you know if you can forgive?  Here are five questions I recommend asking yourself to help clarify if reconciliation is something you want.  Let me emphasize before you read these that relationships are not all or nothing, they are continually redefined and renegotiated and just because you decide reconciliation is not the best choice right now DOES NOT mean there will never be a time or space for forgiveness.  It just means now may not be the time to try to continue as things were.  Ask yourself:

1. Can you stay in this relationship and maintain self-respect? 

Trust your gut.  if you aren't able to feel good about yourself when sticking with a friendship, partnership, roommate relationship or any other relationship after some distance, disagreement, or concern you need to move on.  Take time to heal on your own, turn to your community of support, talk to a counselor or mentor and be gentle to yourself as you move on.

Remember, a no answer may mean now is not the time to proceed as things were.  Take some more time (read #3 below) and take care of yourself right now.

2.  How important is this relationship in your life?  

What level of priority is this commitment in your life?  Do you see this person daily?  Do you have shared responsibilities?  Do you share enough history and community with this person to work through the difficulties?

It's important to get clear about which areas of your life are connected to this person, these elements can help inform your decision to reconcile and how to redefine your commitments to one another.

3.  Have you worked through your own anger and pain in this situation to really move toward this person in a new way?

My favorite relationship expert, John Gottman talks about something called the "harsh start-up" and its negative impacts on couples conflicts.  Research has shown entering into conversation with an abrasive, sarcastic, critical, or resentment-laden energy will likely end on a negative note.  96% of the time you can predict the outcome of a conversation by the first 20% of the time spent talking (three minutes out of a fifteen minute interaction).  Taking care of some of your own anger and time to heal, rest and refuel will greatly increase the success in your reconnection attempt.

4.  Is there potential for this relationship to evolve into something new and different from what it was before?

Your relationship will likely never be the same again.  That doesn't mean it won't be good again, but the question is; are you open to creating something new with this person?  Can you detach from the ideas you had about what you were and look forward on new horizons of what you could be now?  And, will the relationship be worth is to you even if it doesn't change?

5.  Do you have the time, energy, and support resources necessary to really invest in rebuilding this partnership?

Despite what my favorite rom-coms might show, rebuilding a connection after a conflict can be very difficult and will take time.  There is no fade away scene at the end, there is some remaining awkwardness, some distance, and some grief that can come with major relationship evolution.  Ask yourself what resources you have to support you each individually and in your partnership moving forward.  If you need professional help, I am happy to step in or refer you to a great provider.

The decision whether or not to reconcile is personal.  The decision can also differ greatly within your partnership.  Be gentle with yourselves and take plenty of time to reflect individually and discuss together.  Remember, follow your heart, and take your brain with you.

What to Watch Out for: Three Signs Your Relationship Needs Work

 

So many couples wait until they have done MAJOR damage before coming in to see me in the office.  Statistics show that most couples finally make an appointment six months after symptoms of dissatisfaction become a problem. Here are a few symptoms to watch out for so you can get support sooner rather than later.

Have you been wondering if your relationship needs work?  Consider the warning signs, and make an appointment with me for a free consultation to talk more.

  1. Negativity – Continued negative contact over time makes it difficult to repair damage and return to sweetness together
    1. Resentment -- Built up (often unspoken) feelings of negativity toward your partner
    2. Criticism – Blame and critique of one another instead of solution finding
    3. Contempt – Attacks on each other’s character
  2. Rigidity – Remaining open to the influence of your partner instead of becoming inflexible is critical to long-term relationship health
    1. Defensiveness – Becoming defensive hearing your partner
    2. Stonewalling – Withholding affection, ignoring or distancing from your partner
  3. Turning Away – While it is important to have independent time and space, turning away from your partner when they are requesting help or support can decrease the longevity of your relationship significantly
    1. Invalidation—denying the validity of one partner’s experience or feelings
    2. Avoidance or Withdrawal – Physically or emotionally withdrawing from one another completely

If you have noticed any of these signs and wish to remedy your relationship, couples counseling or relationship coaching may be right for you. Remember, every relationship needs a tune-up now and again, just don’t wait so long you have to call AAA from the side of the highway!

Holiday Travel: Relationship Cures and Conflict

What pushed me over the edge to actually write the blog was a terrible customer service interaction at the United counter.  I will spare you the details of our holiday travel.  We were at the airport to check on our flight status.  When we reached the front of the line, I greeted the woman at the counter and said I had a quick question.  She actually growled and said, "That's not how it works."  I felt myself recoil from her angry tone.  I said, "I know you're really busy, I have one short question and then we can get out of your way."  She snapped again.  I felt myself lose hope.   We were off to a very bad start.

The woman at the counter continued to be unnecessarily rude, stubborn, and combative and ultimately I spoke with her supervisor.  I am not sure what she had faced before I walked up, but it was clear she was not in a place that moment, day, or possibly year to having a compassionate discussion.  I left the counter much more frustrated than when I arrived.  I doubt the woman felt god about our interaction.  I was so mad.

When my partner sweetly asked, "Whats wrong?"  I snapped, "The world would be a happier place if people started with compassion!"

In my practice I have come to see (and the research consistently shows) the basic principles of strong relationships hold true not only in romantic partnerships, but in all relationships.  Meaning, the skills and tricks necessary to fortify your marriage aren't actually that different from the ways you can foster a better relationship with your boss, or your daughter.   And the way to build these is relatively simple.

The airport counter experience I had is one small example of what John Gottman calls a "harsh startup."  According to his research 96% of the time a conversation will end the way it started.  So when the woman growled I knew it wasn't going to end well.  Luckily, my relationship with the customer service rep was a short one (I hope we don't run into each other again).  However, harsh startups can play a critical role in long term relationships.  According to Gottman's research, only 40 percent of the time do couples divorce because they are having frequent, devastating fights. More often marriages end because, to avoid constant skirmishes, husband and wife distance themselves so much that their friendship and sense of connection are lost.

Over time negative interactions build up and eat away at the positive regard that has been built between individuals.  In his book, The Relationship Cure, Gottman outlines how clearly this applies not only to romantic relationships, but also to colleagues, friends, neighbors, and classmates.  For example, I work with a colleague who believes she can determine the kind of day she will have based on the first interaction she has with her boss each morning.  On good days her boss greets everyone in the office with a cheerful hello and a 30-second check in about the news and their lives.  However, on bad days her boss will walk directly into her office without a greeting and wont speak until there is business at hand.  When they do speak, her boss begins by barking orders and questions.  These micro-harsh startups impact the assistant's entire day.

So how do you avoid a harsh startup?  Here are a few tips:

1. Start with your breath.  Take five deep breaths on your own before entering a conversation that could be difficult.

2. Ask yourself, "Is this the best time, place, and manner to have this conversation?"  Could it wait?  Would it be better if you were alone?  If it needs to happen then, thats fine, but if there is a more optimal location or time then plan ahead and make an appointment, or ask your partner to take a walk with your to discuss the topic at a set time.

3. Begin with gratitude.  Think of three things you enjoy, respect, or honor in the person you are speaking with.  What have they taught you?  Keeping these fresh in your mind will help you enter the discussion with greater compassion.

4. Avoid concrete or absolute language and soften your word choice whenever possible.   The woman at the counter repeatedly said "That's wrong" to me in the airport.  Had she said, "I am sorry you were misinformed, let me see how I can help you sort this out" I would have felt better even if receiving the same end result and information.  Try not to speak in either/or and avoid words like always, never, and forever.

5. Take a time out.  Don't be afraid to walk away for a minute, gather your thoughts, and take a few deep breaths.  Just remember to come back.

6.  Ask questions about the other person's experience.  Genuinely ask, "How was your day?" "what brought you here today?" etc to assess whats going on for the other person and get a sense of where they are coming from.

Its not foolproof.  We all have harsh startups now and again.  However, with a little intention and care, I do believe the world would be a happier place if first we start with compassion.