Some relationship conflict is inevitable, and using many of the tools such as being able to talk and listen well, knowing when to walk away and agreeing to return when both have cooled down – will support you to understand each other, feel heard and valued, and enable you to work through difficult periods and resolve many issues in a healthy, growthful way. Essential to this package is being able to repair emotional damage.
When we’re triggered we lose our usual cognitive function. We can become aggressive and punishing and say cruel things we regret later. This is because when our fear response is activated, we go into reactive, or reptilian brain (so called as its our most primitive, fight or flight reaction that is now running the show). Know that no one can make good decisions when in this state, we’re not rational and unable to feel empathy. When two people are out of control its going to get ugly.
The best thing to do is to separate, take time out alone for a minimum of 30 minutes. That’s how long it takes for our brains to settle down, for our pre-frontal cortex to get back into the drivers seat. Have an agreed strategy so that when things get over-heated, you leave each other alone, with the knowledge that you will come back to talk later. When this is understood in advance, the risk of blaming the other for walking off is greatly reduced, and the chance that one of you will remember what you need to do at these times is increased.
When you have quietened right down, be prepared to offer some repair. Being able to say “I’m sorry”, “I don’t want us to fight”, offering a hug or just acknowledging how tough it is to be in the soup will really support your connection. Repair allows us to relax, to feel we’re OK, to know that we care about each other even though there is stuff that needs to be resolved.
If you’re not able to repair damage, the suffering continues, and if it goes on too long it gets stored as a long-term memory. It also gets more difficult to reach out if you’ve not spoken or made eye contact for days.
Accept there will be conflict, but when you learn how to avoid escalation and manage yourselves, it’s not so difficult to reduce the frequency, intensity and recovery time of conflict. And when we are confident we can recover and reconnect, disagreement become less threatening, and our reptilian reaction is reduced.