This relates to and extrapolates on our last post about listening to the need behind the criticism.
For this post I wanted to talk about how building intimacy and friendship are the keys to conflict resolution.
The reason conflict can be so difficult and destroy partnerships is because one or both of the people have become disengaged.
You should be playing on the same team...but what do teams do?
Practice includes: Building an Emotional Bank Account
-Having a 5:1 Ratio of Positive to Negative interactions: John Gottman coined this idea. Unfortunately for us, negative interactions can have a powerful effect on us, much more than positive. The key is to overload the relationship with positive interactions so that when the negatives come along it's not out of balance and the relationship is kept stable. Fostering the positives can look like the following:
-Responding to Bids: Learning to see the other person's actions as bids for love, attention, affection, to be heard...and then responding to them instead of ignoring them or getting angry.
-Looking beyond the Criticism or Judgement and finding the need: Our last post talks all about this idea.
-Listening to your partners Negative Emotions; Allowing your partner to vent and express their negative emotions while listening and comforting.
-Expressing Gratitude: It's easy to get tunnel vision or "grass is greener" syndrome. Expressing Gratitude for what you have instead of Resentment for what's missing.
-Taking Obvious Pleasure in Your Partners Happiness: Supporting and enabling the other to pursue what makes them come alive, what makes them happy, and expressing the joy that brings you.
-Having Fun Together: This might be obvious, but creating new memories and fun adventures with one another is very bonding.
-Using Upward Conversational Statements Instead of Downward: This is an interesting one. When you're in conversation with your partner and you want to add something to what they said it's better to use the upward language of, "Yeah, and..." instead of the downward language of, "Yeah, but..."
These are just a few ideas to get you thinking about how you're insulating your relationship.
When the cold winds come through will the insulation be able to withstand it?
These ideas need to be implemented daily in order for trust, intimacy and friendship to build.
Then, when conflict comes, you look at the other person as your teammate, the one you've been practicing with everyday, the person whom you love and adore, the person that has shared intimacy and emotion with you.
You must be in tune with your partner everyday and tackle conflicts together, not trying to solve them, but expressing the needs, desires and hopes behind them.
When conflict comes...
Take a deep breath.
Look for the need.
Take a break if your fight or flight responses are on the tongue.
Use "yeah, and..." statements.
Express your needs.
Remember this is your teammate, your partner.
They aren't out to get you.
They just might need something.
They just might be triggered by something.
Your patience and listening ear means everything to them.
Remind them that you care, especially in the midst of conflict.
Remind them that you want to hear their need.
Remind them that you are committed to the process.
When all is said and done, do something enjoyable together.
Other people don't cause our feelings.
Our feelings are an embodied response that speaks of a deep need not being met.
Many times, when couples are in conflict, they try and come up with strategies to fix the problem.
But if the strategy doesn't meet both of the partners needs then it is no good.
We have to learn how our body experiences feelings.
And then we have to learn how to communicate those needs to our partner during conflict.
When one partner throws out a judgement they are actually wanting a need met. If we switch our focus from the judgement to the underlying need then the conflict disappears and now we're tackling it as a team. The partner being "attacked" needs to dig under the judgements and anger to find out what the present need is...in this moment.
We need to get curious about our partner.
The interesting thing is...we often express our deep needs in an opposite way.
So if your partner says, "you never do the dishes." they might really have a need for appreciation.
Or if your partner says, "don't touch me." they might really have a need for affection or closeness.
Sometimes we will tell our partner exactly what we need, but sometimes we mask it in a judgement, an attack or anger. These needs are "forbidden needs". They are the needs that have been deemed as forbidden throughout our life and so we have a hard time communicating them. This is why they end up coming out as an opposite judgement and create conflict. In relationship we continue to act as if these needs are forbidden even though we truly desire to meet them.
MOVING FROM CONFLICT TO CONNECTION:
-We have to enter conflict without labeling what the other person is doing as "right or wrong".
-Instead, we're searching for the hidden needs with curiosity, kindness and non-judgement.
-We're open to discovering our own needs as well as the others instead of continuing to be in attack mode. We are committed to working together to discover the hidden needs.
-It should be our joy to meet the others needs. So this is an incredible opportunity for both partners to give and receive. Many times the need is what the other person desperately wants to give.
-This creates safety and goes beyond "solving the problem".
-This beneficial cycle is reinforced when one partner checks in with themselves, finds the hidden feelings and shares them.
-The other person can respond with love and understanding and now feels safe to explore their own needs.
-In order to discover the hidden needs we have to get out of our head and into our body. We need to get out of the past and future and into the present moment, present needs. We have to breathe and ask ourselves what physical/emotional feelings are happening within us. This is a physical thing. We all know what it feels like to be excited or sad. Those are the sensations you are tapping into. After you've sat with that you can attempt to label them and communicate them with one another.
-The best way to avoid resenting your partner is to speak your needs often.
Here are some examples of "bids" in relationship:
-"I really want to take a vacation this year, maybe somewhere tropical, what do you think?"
-"Ugh! It felt like such a long day at work, I just want to lay on the couch and do nothing tonight!"
-"Did you notice my new haircut?"
-"What are you working on?"
-"The bathroom is so dirty right now! When is the last time you cleaned it?"
-"My friend Dave said him and his wife went to a great restaurant downtown the other night, he highly recommends it!"
-"Do you have to work late AGAIN!?"
-"Do you think I'd make a good psychologist or should I try out Interior Design?"
These might look like random sentences but in fact, these are all bids for emotional connection and attention. Responding well to these bids creates trust in a relationship. Even the negative comments are bids for connection. When a wife nags her husband about a dirty bathroom she is really saying, "I would feel so much more comfortable and at ease in our home if it were regularly cleaned and it hurts me that you don't see that!" Or when a couple brings up a vacation or restaurant idea they are asking the other person to get romantic with them by traveling or going on a date. If the other partner doesn't respond to these ideas or shoots them down then they will feel neglected. When a partner asks for an opinion on something they are saying, "I trust your opinion, you know me and can give me another angle on this." If you don't respond to it or respond negatively then you will chip away at that trust your partner is handing to you. Negatively responding to a bid with sarcasm or criticism is another possible outcome that destroys trust.
Most bids, on a basic level, are saying,
"I want to connect with you."
Healthy Relationships=More/Positive response to bids
Struggling Relationships=Less/Negative response to bids
Putting it into practice:
Begin reading between the lines when your partner says something, asks something or demands something.
The best way to shock and confuse your partner is by responding positively to a bid offered as a negative. This is how relationship repair and trust building can begin. So next time your partner nags you, asks you something or makes a statement about how they feel/how their day was, try and see what might be behind the statement. What are they asking for at the core? Connection with you? This is an opportunity to respond to what they are truly asking, not the surface request.
"The bathroom is so dirty right now! When is the last time you cleaned it?" "Ah! I'm sorry babe. I really should be better about doing that, I know its disgusting and that sucks. I'm going to go get started on it while you're making dinner." "You've said that before, how do I know you're actually going to make a habit of it?" "I'm going to make a habit of cleaning it once a week." "I'll believe it when I see it."
That last part is another example of what I call "testing". Partners are going to "test" each other, especially in new territory. The bathroom cleaning will have to happen regularly before the partner will trust the other. But once that bid is responded to positively and re-enforced by repetitious action, trust will be built. This is just one example, you have hundreds of opportunities every single day to serve and listen to one another. At first one of the partners might be bitchy or full of anger about certain bids that have commonly been neglected. It's a process and someone has to "go first".
The more bids you respond to positively and re-enforce the stronger your relationship and the better equipped you'll be to handle the big things that come your way.