Avoiding conflicts with intimate partners: Owning Your Stuff

intimate partners avoiding conflict

When we begin a new relationship, we drag behind us a swag of stuff from old ones. And not just gym equipment and tacky furniture! There’s a whole bunch of less visible stuff. But that stuff will make itself known as we navigate from the honeymoon phase to a deeper, more authentic connection. Here are some tips for avoiding conflict with intimate partners.

I’m talking about the complex web of defensive postures we learn from infancy in response to perceived threats to our psychological safety.

It Must be Our Parents Fault!

From the 1950s, proponents of Attachment Theory taught that we learn to manage feelings around intimate partner attachment in infancy. We respond to the security and emotional safety we experience from parents or caregivers.

A Shaky World

Conflicts with intimate partners are scary. That’s because we are emotionally most vulnerable within our relationships. When those become shaky, our whole world feels less safe.

Owning our stuff is about owning up when we’ve made a mistake. But more broadly, it’s about learning to identify emotions anchored in historical attachment experiences.

Neglected ‘attachment injuries’ act as emotional potholes. We stumble in and then wonder how to get out. How did the conflict escalate so quickly, and over something minor?

Two classic examples of relationship dynamics informed by early attachment experiences are:

 Anxiety when a partner walks out on an argument without saying when they’ll return.

 Giving or receiving ‘the silent treatment’ for days after an argument.

The good news is that with the help of a trained Relationship Coach, you can untangle the intricate latticework of attachment issues and name them. Then, together, you can reshape responses to potential conflicts towards a deeper understanding and a stronger connection.

3 Top Tips

It starts with taking responsibility for your own stuff. Don’t make an emotional punching bag out of your partner.

Let me leave you with my 3 Top Tips for avoiding conflict. Start your journey to owning your own stuff right now:

1. Next time you feel angry, irritated or frustrated with your partner, take a moment. Ask yourself, “What is this situation triggering in me that I can better understand?”

2. Recognise the difference between owning your stuff and avoiding it — by blaming others. Try to identify an ongoing conflict in your life in which you may be blaming – or trying to control – others. What can you take responsibility for? How might that change the conflict?

3. ‘I’ statements are a powerful and practical way to take responsibility during a conflict. Notice the difference between “You always side with your Mum against me” and, “Yesterday, when your Mum criticised my driving, and you laughed, I felt unsupported”. The second option names the action and the impact, without blaming the other person.

Chris Pye is a Relationship Coach who helps individuals, couples and families to transform conflict and communication difficulties into deeper connections. For more about his work, or to book a free ‘first-step conversation’.

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