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Inner Steps to Take Before Approaching Effective Conflict

It is not always possible to pause with yourself before engaging in conflict with your partner.  But if you can create the pause, it will serve you greatly to do your own inner work before entering into the dialogue with your partner. Often when we just jump into the fight, we hope for something that we don’t get. This is usually because when fighting happens without forethought, either one or both people are triggered into their primal brains. This is the reason for our fight/flight/freeze response, which just doesn’t bear great fruits for resolution. When you can, push a pause button and take some time with yourself before further engaging. Granted, it’s a hard thing to do because the egos are so ready to jump in and make their points and be right. Of course, beneath the drive to be right is the deep desire to be heard and understood, which is exactly why it is important to harness the ego, pull it back and create a time out for yourself.

By spending time with yourself before re-approaching your partner, you will feel more grounded and able to respond versus react. You will be more centered and able to articulate respectfully.

Here are the steps to take for your inner preparation before conflict resolution with your partner:

  1. When you notice that escalation is taking place and your body sensations are shifting into the anger signals of fight, flight or freeze, ask for a “pause” and state to your partner that you would like to take a “time out” before going further, with the intention of coming back and continuing the conversation. If you can, give a time when you will check back in with him or her, even if that means that at that time, you re-negotiate for more time.
  2. When you step away, do not keep going over the narrative in your head that fuels the anger. This is very important because if keep fanning the flames of the argument, your biochemistry won’t have a chance to readjust and you will stay in the fight/flight/freeze mode.
  3. When you are alone with yourself, name the feeling you are having and the bottom line complaint. Then, notice what sensations you are feeling in your body?
  4. Then, do a memory finder and ask yourself, “When have I felt this before?” Allow the movie of your life to play in your head and trace back to when you have experienced this before.
  5. Once you tap into this information, do something self-soothing and physical to change how you feel inside. Take in some sunrays, listen to the birds, drink some water or pet your cat or dog. Or, jump up and down, do yoga, breathe deep, make sounds, go for a walk or run.
  6. Once you have shifted, reflect back on the conflict with your partner. Name the behavior(s) of your partner that triggered these feelings.
  7. Ask yourself if there were any boundaries that were overstepped in some way by your partner that you need to reinstate.
  8. Reflect on your own behavior and notice if you were off the mark in any way that contributed to this conflict that you can own when you discuss this situation with your partner.
  9. Take a little more time to restore your sense of balance with yourself, making sure you are anchored into being okay with yourself and not looking for that from your partner.
  10. When you feel clearer with your thoughts, more spacious and less constricted, reflect on the qualities of your partner that you count on and value.
  11. You might even take a moment to step into his or her shoes and glimpse into why your partner might have acted in the way that he or she did.

Now, you are ready to have a healthy discussion with your partner. Let him or her know that you are ready to bridge and contract for a time to talk that is good for both of you. Honor yourself for taking these inner steps that make a difference in both your relationship with your partner – and yourself!

Deva Joy Gouss, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in private practice in Atlanta Georgia for over thirty years.  She and her husband give weekend couple retreat workshops called Nurturing Your Love. She also facilitates many other kinds of trainings and workshops including Council of All Beings, Tribe Time, Marrying Yourself, Yoga and Movement Celebration to name a few. She is author of Re-arranged, Never the same: The Nature of Grief and Toolbox of Hope, For When Your Body Doesn’t Feel Good. Visit Deva Joy at www.healingheartcommunications.com

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