For twenty-five years Relationship Coach and Counsellor, Chris Pye has supported individuals, couples, families, and teams to transform conflict and communication issues into deeper connection. In this third and final monthly instalment, he unpacks his final three essential guideposts for a more harmonious relationship. Let’s finish the 9 R’s of Relationship Conflict First Aid.
Guidepost 7: Responsibility
A key step in building healthy relationships is recognising the unhealthy thoughts and actions we may currently be investing in. When we learn to observe our feelings, thoughts and behaviours dispassionately, we can make conscious choices about how we want to respond to them.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) draws on ancient wisdom to remind us that whether or not our thoughts are true is less important than understanding whether or not they are helpful. A helpful thought is simply one which aligns with who we want to be in the world. It then supports us in achieving our goals.
Responsibility essentially means owning our stuff. We can’t control the people and the circumstances that surround us. Trying to do so is generally a recipe for disaster.
Instead, we can take responsibility for our own thoughts, feelings, and actions. We can also let go of blame and defensiveness and focus on our own self-improvement. Ellie Lisitsa expands on the importance of taking responsibility in the blog of renowned relationships expert, John Gottman.
Guidepost 8: Restrict
When our approach to relationship conflict is adversarial, we focus on winning points, sometimes at any cost. And if we lose a point in one topic area, we shift to another, desperately trying to regain ground and a sense of control.
But veering into historical events and past grievances invariably draws us into murky waters and we end up flailing. When this happens, we increase our relationship conflict and derail any chance of successful resolution.
Try to slow things down and resist the conflict becoming dominated by intellectual or logical arguments. It’s O.K to feel stuff that you can’t always explain. Healthy conflict requires taking some well-timed breaths and staying focused on what is present.
Guidepost 9: Release
When the thought of conflict with our partner induces anxiety and the conflict itself leaves us emotionally bruised and battered, why on earth would we return to the ring?
One alternative is to put a lid on our feelings, bottle them up and hope to tough it out. This may work in the short term. But just like sitting on a floating beach ball, the more we push down, the more it pushes back. And as soon as we let down our guard, that’s exactly what it will do.
Explosive arguments that seem to come out of nowhere rarely do. A major blow-up in response to a dirty dish in the sink is a strong indicator that difficult feelings have been allowed to build until they just couldn’t be contained any longer.
I sometimes ask the couples I work with to create a regular time and place for a fifteen or twenty-minute ‘check-in’ each week (or each day) to emotionally reconnect with one another, in a conversation-starting with something like “today in the relationship I feel…” It may be a little awkward at first but building a healthy habit of regular emotional sharing with your partner/s will lead to deeper and more connected 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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