For twenty-five years Relationship Coach and Counsellor, Chris Pye, has supported individuals, couples and families to transform problem conflict. Now, over the next three issues, he unpacks his essential guideposts for a healthy relationship – the 9 Rs of relationship first aid.
Relationship first aid
Guidepost 1: Retire
It may seem an ironic place to start but retiring doesn’t mean giving up. Long-suffering parents among you will be familiar with the ‘time-out’ strategy for managing tyrannical tweens. Its application to adult relationships is different, but still about hitting the pause button before conflict escalates into the ‘Danger Zone’.
The Danger Zone is the point in a conflict where words or actions begin to do real damage to a relationship. It’s a place we should strenuously avoid.
In my relationship coaching work, I take couples through the time-out process step by step. In short, here are the key elements:
1. Structure and document your time-out plan together, before your next conflict.
2. Identify the words and actions that can lead to a danger zone and agree to banish them from future conflicts.
3. Decide where each party will retire to in the event someone calls time-out, and for how long. (Half an hour? Three hours? Before sun-down?)
4. During time-outs, choose activities and self-talk that help reduce stress so that you will be well prepared to positively reconnect. (Stewing or mentally justifying your actions won’t cut it!)
5. Commit to reconnecting after the specified time, to repair, own your words or actions, and try again. Any partner can call a time-out when there is a legitimate breach of the conflict rules. The other/s must then respect the call and back off.
Time-out is not a conflict silver bullet, and you won’t always get it right. Be kind to yourself and each other and remember that positive change comes from small, incremental steps, consciously taken, towards the relationship you want to build.
Guidepost 2: Relinquish
To what extent are your relationship conflicts caught up in trying to change your partner into seeing the world the way you do?
Striving for control in a relationship is not an uncommon response to feeling out of control in some way. When we feel this way, we essentially have two options: We develop tolerance for our own difficult feelings, or we try to make the rest of the world bend to our perceived needs.
Relationships get into trouble when issues of power and control are not addressed. If you identify that control is an issue for you, take a moment to consider its long-term impacts on your partners and your relationships. It may be worth getting some support from a trained clinician. And in the meantime, stop, breathe, let go.
Guidepost 3: Respect
Our intimate partnerships are often where our most uncomfortable thoughts, emotions and sensations surface because they tap into our historical attachment trauma. Heightened emotions can lead to disrespectful and, sometimes, abusive behaviours, as we grapple with a sense of being overwhelmed.
When we slow down our conflicts and consciously breathe, we create windows of opportunity to consider who we want to be in this moment. Respectful language and actions pave the way to healthy, sustainable relationships.
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’, go to: asinglestep.com.au
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