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Turning Conflict into Communication

Posted 18 Jan '16 by Sarah Saatzer

There are many things we are not taught at school or by our parents or the people around us. The trouble is that this can give us an unconscious or conscious idea that we don't need to learn - it will come naturally to us.  We end up learning the hard way, when there are some practical things to do and ways of looking at things which can make life a lot easier. How to survive and thrive in an intimate relationship is one of those things.

A common negative pattern that couples get into is one of constant attack and defence. 

For example you may feel that in your relationship first and foremost you need to defend yourself.  Does the following scenario sound familiar?....

If I am being attacked I need to defend myself.  In doing that I go on the attack. “You don't listen”. I have heard every word they have said but they are wrong; I don't do that they do that. “I am not the one doing that you are. You are the one.” I am so fully convinced of that.

Let’s go back to a time when we were perhaps judged as children. We have horrible feelings about that. It was very painful. So we need to keep away from these feelings, we can't have it that we are in the wrong, that we are bad. So we look outside ourselves for the blame.

But what if there is no right or wrong? Or what if we are right and the other person is right too.

When both people in the relationship feel attacked and the need to defend, then it is a constant battle.

There are some practical things we can do to take ourselves out of the battle and approach each other differently.

Most importantly we need to express how we are feeling. Sometimes it is very difficult to know how we are feeling, or if we know, then how to express it. (This is where counselling can help.)

It is helpful to look inside myself and really give time to what I am feeling. What is my problem? What is lacking? What is it I want from the other? It can be helpful to write down what comes into my head as I am doing this. Or draw something. In this time I can find out more about myself and what it is I can give to myself. Then I can look at what I want from the other, what I need in the relationship.

Giving myself that time; either on my own, with a friend or in counselling can help to soothe me down, to make me feel better and to then be able to express my feelings and needs to my partner without attack. I am then more able to give him space to express his feelings and needs to me and to hear what he is saying and to empathise so that he then doesn't feel on the defence and the need to attack. I can maybe facilitate him to talk in a way that expresses these things rather than in talking in a defensive way.

To  help maintain this kind of communication on a practical level we can try to get into the habit of  what can be called “speaking from the I position” It also helps when you are both new to this, to express what you are feeling in the moment right now. If you want to express that you feel something quite often it is better to do that at a time when both of you are feeling more trusting and less defensive. Instead of saying “You never listen” you can say “At this moment I am not feeling heard or understood. Can I explain it to you again and you say it back how you understood it. I can then do the same for you.” Instead of saying “You are never satisfied” you can say “ I am feeling like I can't please you or make you happy whatever I do”