A relationship is a wonderful tool for your spiritual growth.
How you as a couple respond to conflict can tell you a lot about a relationship.
You can be in a partnership where every conflict pushes you further and further apart, or you can be in a relationship where every conflict brings greater intimacy and opportunities to get free.
And for the spiritual seeker getting free is the most important thing.
In the heat of conflict, it is very difficult to remain conscious. Most of us get swept up in our triggers, our stories, our opinions, our unhealed trauma.
I have learned that what we fight about is not as important as how we fight. I’ve learned that if you put your attention on fighting better, the topics that come up also tend to soften.
It is all part of learning to love another human being, and yourself.
And when you don’t fight well, how you fight will eventually become one of the topics of contention. Before you know it, you’re trapped in a cycle of being hurt and hurting another.
My husband and I created a framework some time ago, that we use whenever disagreement arises between us, big or small. It serves as a map back to a state of love and it has helped a lot.
When we argue about something, it usually begins with us being pulled into old software that starts playing out. This “triggers” us. And before we know it, we are overwhelmed with the urge to prove our point and convince our partner that we are right and they are wrong.
It’s usually at this point that one of us has to say “Wait a minute. Let’s do this right.”
And we take a step back, and follow these steps:
Step 1: We both take turns to explain the other person’s view/story to the other.
- I will tell my husband what I believe he is saying. And he will tell me what he believes I am saying.
- It instantly takes the focus off of “my story” and our primal need to defend it.
- It is “seek first to understand” in practice.
- It gives us a chance to verbalize and process what our partner’s story is first.
- My partner will feel heard. I will feel heard.
- And most importantly, he will be able to briefly address miscommunications, gaps in the story, or things that are simply not true in how I understand his version of events.
Step 2: We each explain how we would have liked things to have gone.
- Once again, it takes us away from fixating on “our story” (the past) and moves us straight into a resolution (the present).
- Gives a clear expectation of outcome so that we can decide as an individual or as a couple if we are able to work towards that or not.
- No mind reading and no guessing of what your partner expected. Just crystal clear communication.
Step 3: We share our truth
- This is a powerful step. It is our one and only chance to share what is important to our hearts, so we must choose our words clearly, and concisely.
- We try to limit this to 1-2 sentences, because the truth, distilled down is always simple.
- What is absolutely true for you?
- It usually begins with “It is important to me that I/we/my partner…”
- It might also be “I am sorry for…..”
Step 4: We share our boundaries
- This is optional, because not every argument has a boundary that needs to be placed.
- But if we do, this is the time.
- Examples of boundaries:
- I accept your apology and I need time to heal.
- I do not want to feel disrespected in my relationship. I will not be called names like X, Y and Z.
- You cannot talk about my friends/loved ones like that.
- You cannot eat my chocolate without asking me first 😋
Step 5: Tell each other some ways you will do better.
- It doesn’t matter who is “right” or “wrong” there are always things both of us can do better.
- The person who is “wrong” may have clear steps to take based on the disagreement
- The person who is “right” might look at other areas in the relationship that they could work on.
- Sometimes, in fact, most of the time, in my relationship, there isn’t a “right and wrong” and we find that we both just have two different beliefs on how something should be.
Things to keep in mind
- Try to protect your partners triggers. Triggers are IMPORTANT. They are neon lights pointing to past karma and opportunities to get free. When you are an in the active state of conflict, it is not the time to activate triggers. They need to be processed with maturity, stability and awareness. So do yourself, and your partner a favour, and don’t push those buttons. Address them later.
- After the disagreement has healed and you back to a state of love, reflect with your partner about how you handled the conflict, and how you can do it better next time. So it’s not a discussion on the topic, it’s a discussion on HOW you fight. Example “I feel like I spent a lot of time shut down before I was ready to open up to you and work on a resolution. I think I did that because….” or “I noticed I always jump to the worst case scenario. Maybe that’s because I feel like….” or “I think I yell because sometimes it feels like it’s the only way to get you to listen”
- When possible, try to speak with as much love, compassion and kindness as possible. When it is not possible (ha, believe me, I know) try to speak neutrally.
- Take time to work through big topics. There are a couple of issues that come up for us that take a lot of emotional labor to work through. We know it won’t be solved in one conversation, and we also know that we don’t have the capacity to do it for various reasons (too emotionally invested, unprocessed feelings, unsure/undecided/not enough information, too many triggers). We try to recognize these topics and approach them bit by bit. We pick a time to talk about it that is good and we are not rushed. We approach it with awareness, because we have planned for it. We break it down and discuss only one small part of it at a time. One time it took like 5 conversations over the space of a month before we come to any kind of solution, but when we did, we knew we had made the right decision, and we felt closer because of how we had worked through it with so much patience and understanding.
Thank you for reading,