stop fighting

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 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.