The Anatomy of Conflict

When someone’s words or behaviours upset us 3 things happens:

1. Our conscious mind sees or hears

2. Our subconscious ‘filters’ it and generates feelings and emotions

3. Our unconscious mind swings into action and we in turn speak or act hurtfully in response

1. Defensiveness

If on the receiving end of a comment or action that feels wrong or hurtful our most common responses are:

• Blowup – we attack back to defend our self, take control, hurt the other, share the fault, or twist the guilt.

• Justify – to explain our self as we want our partner to understand and feel ok by  giving  them ‘insight'

• Analyze – to get our partner to understand our hurt & acknowledge their hurtful words or behaviours.

If our partner is 1. upset, 2. believes they are right, or 3. is just stating a feeling - all responses are heard as criticism or argument … regardless of your best of intentions, or whether the "truth" is clearly different.

Stop thinking about your response as your partner speaks. Instead - listen, empathise & validate. Regardless of what you perceive to be the real truth, or what you believe to be fair.

If your partner believes they are right, or that they didn’t do or say anything wrong – trust them. Instead, acknowledge each others feelings – without blame or need for an apology.

… Distinguish conscious from unconscious behaviours.

2. Passive Responses

There are several different responses that come under silence:

• Emotional or physical withdrawal

• Silence - no acknowledgement

• Obscure or obtuse replies that are difficult to comprehend

These responses are forms of passive aggression, and are extremely hurtful or inflammatory, especially when the other partner is already upset. In the actual moment your partner NEEDS to be heard and acknowledged.

Note: Some people are unable to respond "on the spot":

1. Too stressed (emotionally overwhelmed), 2. Can’t process thoughts quickly, 3. Don’t know how they feel,

4. Worried regards the impact of their answer, 5. Worried regards the reason for the question>

If this is you – ask for time out to consider. BUT … commit to a response time e.g. 5 minutes or 5 hours

3. Criticism & Insults

• Criticism makes our partner feel that they are defective, leaving them feeling inferior.

• Insults show a total lack of respect and destroy any trust or love that may exist.

Respect and trust are fundamental to any successful relationship. Criticism & insults are forms of abuse!

If your partner finds a descriptive word as critical or insulting – stop using it. Respect their feelings.

Alternate Responses

When you hear what you think is a thoughtless or hurtful comment, you can think in different ways:

1. It is your interpretation (truth) of the situation -  and there can often be many other interpretations.

2. Your partner was upset at the time so it was a non-conscious response in that moment.

3. Your partner was in autopilot mode. They were merely acting differently to how you act, without intention.

4. It is tiny aspect of just one behaviour … and not about you, the person. Focus on the 99%.

5. It’s only your resistance to the event that is causing you pain. Words & behaviours can’t actually hurt.

6. Words & behaviours occupy just small points in time  - often quite fleeting & not the big picture.

7. We are responsible for our own happiness, and shouldn’t be dependent on others for it.

8. The expression of an emotion … or an action - doesn’t necessitate blame!!

Use I feel statements … I love you but when you say/do I feel... Focus on the behaviour, not the person.

Following an argument, when things are settled, and you are feeling positive or connected again, practice  the 5 minute “Counsellor” Exercise. Take turns to ONLY listen.  But … state NO blame, use no inflammatory words.