Tips For Handling Conflicts Without Hurting Your Relationship

It is possible to tell the most difficult truths so that people are literally filled with gratitude afterwards. There is a piece of wisdom about life and relationships so important that it should have been posted on the walls of our elementary schools an

When people are scared, hurt or angry, they are physiologically incapable of thinking straight. Stress hormones flood the body and cause the rational part of the brain to shut down and the irrational part takes over. This is why people who are angry do not speak with each other. Here are some tips that will help you calm down when you become frustrated, so you can gain perspective and reconnect from a better place.

1. STOP! As soon as you notice yourself becoming uncomfortable with the way your conversation is going, STOP! Then say: I need a time out. This tells your partner you need a break, without blaming her (him) for your discomfort.

2. TIME OUT. Time out means physically separating from each other in order to stop the hurt. It means going away for a short time (30-60 minutes) and coming back after both of you have calmed down. Brain researchers have found that once the heart is beating 95 bpm or above, the thinking brain (neocortex) shuts down and the emotional brain (amygdala) takes over. This means it does no good to keep arguing when you are both upset, because the reasonable part of your brain is no longer listening.

3. OWN YOUR PART. Take responsibility for your part in creating the problem. It means calming yourself down, analyzing your behavior, and redirecting your energy away from attacking or defending. Most people believe they have won if they have gotten their spouse to do things their way. Do not mistake submission for devotion, or obedience for love. Every act of “overt muscling” by one partner leads to two equally powerful acts of “covert defiance” by the other!

Examples of Overt Muscling:

  • Demanding obedience
  • Controlling resources: money, freedom, time
  • Using violence or threats to control partner
  • Showing frustration in public
  • Blaming, belittling, interrogating
  • Excusing your bad behavior by blaming your partner for it.

Examples of Covert Defiance:

  • Withdrawing or Avoiding
  • Stonewalling (includes: the silent treatment, refusing to talk)
  • Withholding affection, attention, appreciation
  • Procrastinating
  • Chronic “forgetting”
  • Chronic apologies without subsequent changes in behavior

OWNING YOUR PART means that during your time out you take responsibility for calming yourself down and redirecting your energy away from attacking or defending toward understanding and caring for your relationship. You may want to go for a walk, take a hot bath, listen to quiet music etc.

Questions to help you redirect your energy:

  1. What negative behaviors from the lists above did I use?
  2. How might those behaviors have contributed to the bad feelings my partner and I experienced?
  3. What could I have done that would have been more helpful, more considerate, more kind?

After you’ve answered these questions and have a better understanding of what went wrong and what part you played, you may be ready for the last step:

4. PEACE OFFERING! Assuming you have done all three previous steps, you should be ready to come back together and talk. Each of you should take a turn sharing what you learned about yourself from your time away. This means owning your part, apologizing to your partner for the hurt you may have caused, and making a peace offering. When both of you have completed this step, chances are you will be feeling much better.