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Healing a relationship after conflict

Have you found yourself in heated arguments with your partner lately? Maybe you've noticed a pattern of hurtful language, criticism, or those moments of silent treatment that leave both of you feeling frustrated and alone. It's a common struggle, and even if you both have the best intentions, these recurring conflicts can take a toll on your relationship.

I got into a distressing argument with my partner recently that left us both feeling awful. I asked my husband to do the dishes since I had a busy day at work. He agreed. By the end of the day as I went into the kitchen I saw the dishes just the way they were and I felt furious. I told him he is the most irresponsible, insensitive person I've ever met and that triggered him to say that I am always so rude and always waiting to pick a fight. Both of us walked out on each other feeling bitter and disconnected.

As I sat in the comfy corner in my living room trying to calm myself down, I couldn't help but wonder, what could I have done differently? It dawned on me that conflict, though uncomfortable, can be a gateway to a deeper understanding of our partners and our relationships.

According to John Gottman's research, all couples fight and argue but it’s not the fight, but how we heal the relationship post the fight, and come to terms with the inevitable differences in personality, perspective, and needs that truly matters. We all come with our own unique set of needs and wants, likes and dislikes. When we just avoid conflict due to these and don't heal the relationship it leads to feelings of resentment, loneliness & disrespect. We start drifting apart like asteroids in the vastness of space. The key is to reconnect, making each other feel heard, understood and accepted.

Here's what we can do to heal the relationship:

1. Take a breather

Try taking a brief step back with the purpose of allowing one another some breathing room to prevent hurting one another more in the moment. It is always best to allow each other some

time off to cool down and decompress since trying to resolve a conflict then and there could be counterproductive with our emotions overflowing. This timeout is a good time for both of you to contemplate on what caused it, to explore your feelings and emotions and to gather your thoughts.

Couples can also come to agreement about wanting to take a time out or to leave the situation so as to not escalate it and get back to each other when they feel much calmer to work it out. This way your partner does not feel abandoned or disrespected as they get an opportunity to revisit the conversation once your emotions have cooled down.

2. It's not “you against me”, it's “us against the problem”

Shift your mindset from "you against me" to "us against the problem." In most situations we feel hurt, angry, that makes us to protect ourselves. Self Protection may be your first instinct in such situation, but keep in mind that your partner likely feels the same way, and that it won't help you reconnect and feel safe again. Breaking this loop will require one person to have the bravery to expose themselves to some degree, to be vulnerable, and to shift their attention from defending themselves to preserving the relationship. It is not an easy shift to make however, if we make it work it is invaluable to building a healthy relationship.

We can make this shift by naming and externalizing the issue and acknowledging it's presence, validating our partner's emotions regarding the issue and reassuring them that we will work together towards resolving it. This process necessitates both partners to view the issue as separate from each other, recognize their roles in it, refrain from blame, and commit to collaboratively resolving the challenge.

3. Acknowledge your partner's feelings by actively listening to them

Most times after a fight we are so busy sharing our own point of view that we fail to listen and acknowledge our partners point of view. Instead after a disagreement, you can try to mend the connection by asking your partner to express their thoughts, feelings and perspective. Put away your point of view, your biases and judgments, your urge to argue and defend yourself, and just take the time to listen. Validating your partners pain by using statements like ‘I am sorry I made you feel that way’ could really help your partner feel heard and understood and this plays a vital part in building back the trust and connection.

It is very important to remember that we can hold space for one another even when we disagree. We can help comfort our partners by just being present and through listening and reflecting. Holding space for your partner does not mean we suppress our own emotions. Hence it is important to recognize that there is space for everyone in the acknowledgement party.

4. ‘You’ VS ‘I’ statements:

Avoid the blame game when it's time for you to share your perspective, it will only lead you to a rabbit hole. Focus on utilizing "I statements" rather than accusatory sentences that begin with "You always..." or "You never..." The phrases "You never listen to me" and "You don't care about me," for instance, are a definite no-no.

e.g. “I felt lonely when you did not come home to have dinner with me all week.”

“I get anxious when you don’t tell me you’re running late.”

“I feel resentful when we have not had time together for weeks.”

What an ‘I statement’ basically does is that it creates a ‘same team’ attitude rather than creating a hostile environment where your partner feels attacked. It will create a more positive environment where your partner gets less defensive and will actually pay attention to what you have to say. Another important point to note is that along with your ‘I statements’ your body language matters too. Use gestures like nodding your head, eye contact and even a gentle, affectionate touch that could really have an impact.

5. Getting to the root cause of the conflict to arrive at a resolution

Trying to unearth what really caused the conflict in the first place is vital because a lot of time fights about little things are mostly not so little and connected to other aspects within the relationship like unrealistic expectations, unmet needs, underlying insecurities and a lot more.

Lets maybe take the example of the fight with my partner over not doing dishes. Let's imagine that my partner did not do the dishes again. What do you think I'll feel when that happens? I will feel disrespected, taken for granted, disappointed and frustrated by my partners lack of effort. Whereas, my partner might have forgotten to do it since he had a really stressful day at work. In this scenario, my outburst will make him feel like I do not care about him and might end up feeling unloved.

So the underlying need for me here would be to feel appreciated, recognized or even respected and that of my partners would be to feel loved and cared for. Once we recognize these root causes we can further discuss it with each other and come up with ways to manage these needs and soothe each other.

A conflict can definitely bring you and your partner closer if handled properly. The process however would take time and will require your patience and effort. It is not about never hurting your partner but more about your willingness to reconnect with them.


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