How to shift from a full blown argument to a conversation in your relationship
I don’t know of anyone that enjoys conflict in his or her relationship. And I don’t know many that feel competent at navigating conflict. Some are fortunate! Others, me included, struggle find the path to feeling confident at resolving conflict when it erupts. And most times we come out with battle wounds in varying degrees, some minor and some major. Those times when conflict ends with a resolution there is a tendency to feel relief that it worked out as it did. You might even examine what worked and then what worked in that situation doesn’t work the next time. How frustrating! I want to talk about an idea that may help you resolve conflict in your relationship.
In a recent blog post, I mentioned that anger is always the second emotion that we feel. There is always something that we feel first, even if we are unaware of that feeling. For the sake of arguing, it is important to recognize that anger is a secondary emotion because it is far too easy to get caught up in recognizing only our angry.
And when we do recognize what we feel, feelings are sometimes expressed with an accusation. For example, you might say in anger “I don’t feel like I’m a priority in your life.” Let me first say that it is awful to feel as if you are not a priority in your partner’s life. What is important to recognize is that this statement is an accusation. This is not an expression of emotion. The emotion might be stated as “I feel hurt or sad or lonely when I don’t see you very much, I miss you and I would like to spend more time with you.”
Another example, it is easier to say to your partner “I feel like you don’t love me”. When that statement is made, we think we are expressing a feeling. But there is no feeling word in that statement, because we use the word “feel” it does not mean that we are expressing feeling. Although we may be feeling the emotions, we are not expressing them. The expression of emotion would be to say, “I feel unloved” or maybe even “unlovable.” It is so much harder to express our emotions as opposed to anger. We feel vulnerable when we express our emotion. Anger hides our vulnerability. You can read my blog post about vulnerability in relationships!
There is more of an opportunity to shift from an angry argument to a conversation when true emotions are expressed. I remember one session I was working with a father and his daughter. The father was angry. He said to his daughter “You don’t spend time with me anymore, you have better things to do, you don’t appreciate all I’ve done for you” The daughter responded in anger and defensiveness. I asked the father if I could translate what he was trying to say to his daughter. He said “yes.” I turned to the daughter and said “Your dad is trying to say that he is sad because misses you.” The daughter began to cry. She cried because she could hear that statement, it made her feel good and closer to her Dad. Her Dad cried as well because it was exactly what he was trying to convey to her.
So in conflict, try to take a step back. Think about what you are feeling first before the anger. I know, it is hard to know what we really feel when we are angry. Anger is easy, and anger is safe. Fear, hurt, shame, rejection, sadness, betrayal, helplessness, hopeless, unloved, and hundreds more are very difficult to identify and then feel them and even harder…. express them! Ironically as I was working on this post, I stumbled upon a video about kids and anger. It was perfect because the kids recognized the value of taking a step back from anger so that they could shift to calm and then to a conversation. The next step would be to recognize what the child felt that made them angry. Obviously the one child felt rejection and hurt, which ultimately made him angry. And then of course the next step is to express, without accusation, what we felt to our partner or whomever we encounter conflict.
You may not be able to do this in all in one moment in time. Sometimes I need to wait until the next day so that I can process what I was feeling and why. As sensitive as I am and mostly aware of what I feel, there are times when I need a day to think about it or even talk with someone so that I can get to the emotion. But if you can get to the feeling, you have a better opportunity to deepen your connection with your partner or really anyone!
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