Happy couples find ways to resolve conflict, rather than allow arguments to continually escalate, or sweep them under the rug. Working through conflict is the most difficult and the most unpleasant job couples have to learn. When you have anger or hurt toward your partner, there is a strong desire to get away from those feelings rather than go back and review them. However, repressed feelings are sure to return at another time, in another form, and possibly in a more intense way.
The only way out of conflict is to go back, i.e. “return to the scene of the crime,” embrace the feelings and methodically walk back through what happened.
When you have conflict it is as if you feel a stabbing pain in your heart, similar to a heart attack. If you had chest pains, would you ignore them or go workout? Of course not. You would have them checked out by your doctor, and treated right away to repair the heart and minimize any further damage.
In relationships, it is no different. When your heart hurts, you are having an “emotional heart attack.” If you ignore the pain in your heart or continue to put more strain on it, the beating of the emotional heart will cease, and the relationship will die. However, if you check it out and treat it right away you can contain and repair the damage.
Every couple has a responsibility or “duty” to protect the health of their emotional heart by practicing the following after an attack:
- “Return to the scene of the crime.” After conflict, take a break to calm down, so you can rationally come back and investigate what happened. After 15 minutes ask your partner if he/she is ready to talk. If not, wait another 15 minutes and ask again. Each person has to be responsible for bringing him/herself back to the table to communicate.
- Review the facts of the case. Analyze the scene based solely on the chronological, sequential and factual events as they unfolded within the episode in question. Walk through what happened and what was said, “frame by frame,” with each person having a chance to say what he/she was thinking. During this review of the events assignment of blame, or determining right or wrong are forbidden and are considered illegal.
- Investigate one another’s feelings. Each person has a chance to describe his/her feelings during the episode. All feelings are accepted and validated as real to the person expressing them. It is illegal to challenge, refute or question the other’s feelings. A better way is to probe further and be curious about feelings that are not understood, for the purpose of clarification.
- Identify what “crimes” or hurts occurred. Each partner must “own” and confess his/her role in the crime, and genuinely apologize for the pain he/she may have created, whether intentional or unintentional.
- Determine how to prevent the crime from happening again. Go back to the scene of the crime and brainstorm ways that each partner could have handled or approached this or responded differently to increase the likelihood of this not being replayed in the future.
Creating the practice of regularly resolving conflict makes it easier to do. And it will result in their being less conflict and more harmony.
To Your Relationship,
Lori & Bob