As a psychotherapist specializing in the treatment of trauma and Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I often work with patients who have suffered ongoing trauma which has affected their ability to have healthy and fulfilling relationships. When I work with people who have a history of being in domestic violence relationships, often the idea of any kind of conflict at all can lead them into a tailspin of negative emotions and physiological dysregulation. One aspect of treatment that my patients and I focus on is the ability to connect with others in a healthy and safe way while learning to set and maintain boundaries and focus on self care.
Anyone who has ever been in a relationship knows that even the best relationships will include disagreements. As human beings, we all have different experiences and beliefs that lead to differences of opinions with our friends or partners. Being able to have healthy and appropriate dialogue during conflict can make or break relationships. Below are some tips that can be utilized to work through conflict while maintaining self-respect and respect for your partner.
- Pause and take a breath- Often when we become elevated, we forget to take a step back and realize what a great tool pausing can be. It can keep us from saying things we don’t mean in the heat of the moment.
- Use “I feel” statements- This is a great skill to learn because it’s about sharing your reality with someone without placing blame. When we are able to be vulnerable and share our feelings, it can help create healthy intimacy in a relationship.
- Have 1 conversation at a time- Often when couples get elevated, both people want to feel heard and understood. When too many things get thrown in, often neither person is listening and often times it turns into partners bringing up pains that have no place in the current conversation. When we are able to focus on one conversation at a time, we can begin to resolve conflicts rather than complicating them.
- Set ground rule ahead of time- Every person comes into relationships with different experiences and different needs. Having a set of ground rules that meet each partners needs is essential for healthy conflict resolution.
- Listen and take in the information before responding- Often when we are caught up in an argument, we want to get our point across more than we want to hear the other person’s point. This often leads to both people feeling unheard and misunderstood. Healthy communication involves both people in the conversation. When both people can take in what their partner is saying before responding, it can lead to a much more rational and appropriate conversation.
- Don’t hit below the belt- We’ve all felt hurt at some time and sometimes this leads to wanting your partner to feel the same hurt that you are feeling. This usually backfires and creates a more heated situation. Everyone has triggers based on their past and using these to punish your partner can lead to more hurt feeling and less healthy connection.
- Avoid resolving conflict while intoxicated- We’ve all been there. We’ve had one too many drinks and decide it’s a perfect time to bring up everything that has ever bothered us about the person. We all know how this one ends.
- Stop mind reading- We all project in relationships. We take our pasts into our current relationships and assume our partners will react the same way. When we do this, we miss out on really connecting. Intimacy is about sharing our reality and allowing others to share their reality. When we make assumptions about how someone will respond, we miss out on the opportunity to have a new experience.
- No violence or intimidation- Feeling unsafe makes people shut down and go into survival mode. It is only when we feel safe that we are able to share ourselves and be intimate. Violence is never an appropriate way to resolve conflict.
Bio: Shannon McHenry is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a specialty focus in childhood trauma, rape and battering, and PTSD. She is a trauma therapist in Los Angeles and works with clients in her offices in Los Feliz and Torrance. Combining clinical experience with a passion to support women in repairing their relationships with themselves and others, she has supported many to create a long-lasting recovery from destructive behaviors.