Self-awareness is essential. All relationships are going to fall into conflict and disharmony at some point. When that happens, understanding what is going on for you and what you are feeling is key to being able to respond in a healthy way.
So, what we want to get good at is identifying: am I shutting down, am I overwhelmed, do I feel like my partner never listens to me? It’s emotions and thoughts like these that lead to a place of helplessness. And when we become aware that we are in this place, we have the opportunity to make a different choice and a different way of responding. So the invitation I present to those in marriage counselling or couples counselling is to make a decision and take 100% responsibility for how you show up in your communication.
Most of us know what effective communication feels like, when we feel deeply seen, heard, cared for and engaged in good conversation. Negative communication patterns are what we fall into when our nervous system gets hijacked. We fall into a pattern of either fight, flight or freeze. We can go into attack mode and be overly critical, super defensive, or stone wall and just shut down. These patterns lead to a place of helplessness for couples and that leads to a place of waiting on the other person to change or do something different. This is why self-awareness is so important because we need to make a decision that we are stepping out of our old patterns of behavior and saying to ourselves “What can I do in this moment to help us? How can I show up differently?” And that mini-intervention with yourself can be crucial to setting you on the right path with your partner.
First thing I would say is you want to invite within yourself a whole lot of empathy, curiosity, and compassion. A great way to prime yourself for this is by practicing an exercise called active remembering - it is about reflecting on and remembering your partner when they are operating at their best and what they mean to you. If you can do this in these moments of conflict, it can help ground you to hear past their defensiveness and criticism, to remember that this is a person you deeply love and who deeply loves you.
The second thing is to have an agreement around how your partner needs you to support them. Things like talking softly, telling them that you are still on their team, or giving them a hug. And if you don’t get it right in the moment, you can use it as a learning opportunity to talk about what you are going to do differently as a couple the next time you come into conflict.
Written by: Ken Fierheller - Registered Psychotherapist
Want to learn the tools and strategies to effectively communicate when in conflict with your partner? Call us today to meet with one of our experienced marriage counsellors or couples counsellors in Calgary.