Is Your Reaction to Conflict Destroying Your Relationship?
Your partner says something critical and instead of responding you attack.
Posted October 1, 2014
Ask yourself, when in conflict: Does your pulse race and your heart pound? Do you talk over the other person? Do you turn trivial things into causes for battle? Is winning your ultimate goal?
If your answer to some of these questions was, "Yes, that sounds just like me!" you're probably a reactive person.
This reactivity was incredibly useful to your ancestors, who needed to run from wild animals and protect their caves from aggressive neighbors. It's not so useful to you when the threat is your angry wife or passive-aggressive boyfriend.Your partner says something critical and instead of responding rationally or thoughtfully, you attack.
By responding to conflict reactively, you leap to an emotional conclusion. You let the other person determine your response and behavior.
Being triggered can stop your ability to regulate yourself and being unable to regulate yourself is the end of communication and intimacy.
When you're reactive, you enter "automatic pilot" mode. You stop being conscious of your words, tone of voice, or body language. Instead of recognizing that the other person is someone you loved and cared for just an hour ago, you want to shut him or her down, you want to make him or her the problem. You want to win.
If you're a reactive person, your partner may begin to think of you as a time bomb of rage just ready to explode and he or she has to walk on eggshells around you or risk getting hit by shrapnel. If both you and your partner are reactive, conversations easily turn into shouting matches. Either way, your relationship becomes a war zone and communication stops. Without communication, conflict will never be resolved and the situation will never improve.
Safely assuming you don't live in a cave and need to run from lions, it's time you turn your reactive responses into mindful ones.
When you're mindful, you're anchored in the present and you're aware of what you're saying, how you're feeling, and how your words and actions are affecting your partner. With reactive behavior, you look at what the other person is doing to you. But with mindfulness, you go into yourself to understand what you are doing to you. This self-awareness lets you slow down your responses and gain conscious control of what in the past felt like pure reflex.
So, what does being mindful look like? Think of mindfulness like an adult time-out. When you were a kid, your parents made you sit in a corner or go to your room when you were upset. The time-out gave you a chance to calm down and regain control. Just because you now have a career and a mortgage and kids of your own doesn't mean you don't still need time-outs.
Next time you feel yourself getting enraged, mentally send yourself to your room. Take a minute to breathe and drop down beyond your thoughts to understand the meaning of what you're feeling. Create a space between what triggered you and your response to it.
Mindfulness can transform a relationship torn apart by reactiveness. It helps you overcome negative emotional habits like blaming and defensiveness. It lets you express your anger rationally. It helps you consciously choose language and actions to deescalate conflicts. It helps you listen to what the other person is really saying, not just your interpretation of it. And, it puts powerful tools like assertiveness, gentle humor, self-deprecation, compassion, empathy, and respect back on the table.
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