Sep 202011
 

I had the pleasure of attending Annie Lalla and Eben Pagan’s Love Workshop last Friday, which they held only one day after their wedding!  I want to share with you my biggest takeaway out of all the wonderful tools they shared so generously– some Conflict Resolution Tools!

Conflict is challenging, and we all struggle with it to some degree. I believe one reason handling conflict is so difficult is that when we feel triggered, we feel hurt first. This leads to feeling vulnerable and scared of being hurt more, which leads to getting angry to create a protective shield. And doing this doesn’t really accomplish anything in terms of communication and getting closer to your partner. Sound familiar?

Conflict Starts With Getting Triggered

So conflict starts with one person feeling triggered.  I’m using the word “triggered” to describe the feeling one has when an argument is about to begin.  The reason for the argument is usually about a much deeper feeling that is not being expressed.

The reason for the trigger is usually something really superficial like one person not remembering to do something, or one person becoming jealous of attentions paid to another, etc.  The real reason for the emotional upset is usually more fundamental, such as not feeling loved or simply needing to displace aggression.  One person in the relationship being triggered is bad enough, but two people in a relationship being triggered is serious trouble.

If a person is very conscious of exactly what the underlying reason is for the feelings that come up, and has the courage to communicate them openly, a nasty fight can be avoided. The following tools are like gatekeepers to prevent the conflict from escalating, so that it actually brings a couple closer together, rather than creating distance.

Tool #1: Anticipate Triggers

We are more likely to get triggered when we are already under stress. So any stress you can anticipate and be conscious of, will help you remember that there are other reasons you are reacting, when you are in the grips of feeling angry about something. It could really be hunger, lack of sleep, stress about a project, or desire for sex (yes, seriously).

It can also be helpful to identify specific actions that are likely to make you feel unloved and anticipate your reaction to them. Sometimes even when we know intellectually that we are absolutely loved by numerous gestures, one single act of seeming disregard by a partner can send us reeling into feeling uncared for.

There was one man in the audience who was very upset that his wife kept forgetting to hang the keys in a designated place, so he could go to them directly when he needed them. His question was if there had to be an underlying, hidden feeling: “Couldn’t it just be about the keys?” Further discussion uncovered that his anger about the keys not being properly placed was really about not feeling loved, and he didn’t seem to initially be aware of this.

My absolute favorite takeaway about anticipating triggers is noticing your breath.  If you notice your breathing becoming irregular or you’re not breathing at all, something’s up.  Becoming conscious of this is a clue that you may be triggered, and this is a point where you can still gain control of your emotions and prevent yourself from doing or saying something you might later regret.

I also learned a new fact that I’ve never heard before–it takes seven minutes for an emotion to be processed throughout your body. If you’re feeling an emotion for longer than seven minutes, it’s because you’re not fully allowing yourself to experience it when it peaks, and it’s moving in a loop.Â

If you’re feeling an unpleasant emotion, isn’t helpful to know that there is a time frame for it if you allow yourself to feel it fully? Only seven minutes!

Tool #2: Assessing Pain Level

So let’s say you’re super stressed and for whatever reason, you are not able to manage your trigger. You are about to foray into the land of conflict, but you want to handle it with gentleness and finesse. You want to grow closer to your partner after this experience instead of alienate him. So how do you do this?

Since two people who are triggered is a dangerous recipe for disaster, start by assessing who has the higher pain level between the two of you. The person with the higher pain level should be attended to first.  So if you are the person with the higher pain level, this is your chance to vent, to let it all out, until you get to the heart of the problem–your trigger and what it means to you.

This can be very difficult. If it was easy to share the root emotion behind the trigger, we wouldn’t unconsciously cover it up in the first place. It can be very scary to be vulnerable and share the deepest fears in our hearts. That’s why it’s so necessary to know that your partner will be calm and hold space for you.

Meanwhile, your partner has a challenging job as well. Your partner will create a sacred space for you, and hear everything you have to say without responding with his own triggers and reactions and counter statements. He would prepare himself mentally by imagining a time when he felt pain at the same level that you do now. And not only that, he would ask you to be absolutely sure you are being honest about your pain level–is it maybe a little bit higher? Because you might hold back a little and not be completely honest about how hurt you are.

He would also ask you which emotion you’re feeling and to attach a number to that as well (sometimes thinking about this in terms of “what’s your mood?” is easier than identifying an emotion). And to be strong enough to handle everything you are about to unload and not react, to hold that sacred space for you to feel safe, he may have to take on the feeling of being a warrior, holding a sword, to be an unwavering pillar of strength for you.

You, of course, would do the same for him, when he is feeling triggered or upset.  And if he is, when you are finished, now it’s your turn to be the warrior and hold the same sacred space for him. But it’s not necessary for both people to each have a turn if one person is not specifically upset about something. This technique should only be used honestly and not as a means to get attention in a tit for tat way.

Tool #3: Soothing Technology

After going through the experience of assessing pain levels and sharing emotions and triggers in a sacred space, how do you come to a place of feeling resolution and intimacy?

How do you leave that place of feeling small and not seeing the big picture?

How do you come back to your higher self and remember that you are loved in a larger sense–where the trigger was just a small snag in the road?

You achieve this resolution by creating your own personal soothing technology and sharing it with your partner. Everyone has very specific needs, and may require them in a certain series of steps.

For instance, this may be your ideal soothing technology steps in this order:

1) A need to hear “the relationship is safe

2)  A need to hear “I love you

3)  Kisses

Some other examples of soothing technology steps may include a hug, general touch, and/or being told, “I understand how you feel,” in whichever order feels best.

It’s important to remember that we tend to unconsciously offer soothing technology that we would desire for ourselves which might not do it for the other person. That’s why it’s really important to get clear on what works for you and share it with your partner.

Practice

Reading these steps probably isn’t enough to make anyone feel really comfortable using these techniques. Watching two people use them right in front of you is amazing and extremely helpful, but really not enough either. You don’t really know how to do this until you actually do it.

Note: You obviously wouldn’t use all of these steps outside of an intimate relationship or even early on. But parts of these techniques can be used loosely with anyone you experience conflict with such as noticing your breathing, being aware of the reason you’re being triggered, etc.  You can’t always expect someone to engage in this process with you, but you can assess your own pain/emotional levels to give yourself more clarity or hold space for someone else who is upset in order to resolve conflict more quickly.

If you have the courage to try these techniques, leave a comment below and let me know how it turned things around for you (because how could it not?)

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