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Friday Apr 28, 2023

Conflicts in a relationship are inevitable. We’re all unique and it’s normal for two people to have different opinions, values, beliefs and expectations. However, when conflict is not handled effectively, it can have a profound impact on our relationship. Here are some things to consider.

Communication breakdowns

Communication requires empathy and validation. Conflict occurs when we are unable to hear each other’s needs or concerns. This can result in one of two outcomes– a partner will either shut down and avoid communication or will continue to lean into the conversation which then further escalates it. This results in what is referred to as an attack and defend cycle. Either outcome results in unresolved conflict, that can erode trust and emotional intimacy, that are fundamental to a healthy relationship.

It’s important to understand each partners role in the conflict and the underlying emotional triggers that may elicit defensiveness or avoidance. 

Negative sentiment override

One result of chronic conflict is that it begins to distort our view of self and view of partner. John Gottman refers to this as Negative Sentiment Override. We begin to perceive that any interaction will be negative. And we begin to perceive our partner in a negative way. When we’re not able to see our partners in a positive light, trust is significantly diminished and couples turn away from each other, disconnect, and no longer see themselves as loving partners.  

In order to rebuild trust and safe emotional connection, it is required that both partners work together to make changes. In exploring ways to view each other in a more positive way. Sue Johnson, proponent of Emotionally Focused Therapy, suggests that this is achieved by helping the couple create a safe space for them to explore past emotional injuries. When couples can be witness to each other’s pain and vulnerability, they’re able to understand each other on a deeper level that elicits the desire to turn towards each other rather than turning away.

Managing Emotions

One of the most challenging aspects of communication is being able to manage emotions. However, when the brain becomes emotionally flooded, it’s difficult to pull back the floodgates.

Managing emotions requires an understanding of the triggers that cause emotional reactivity that can do further damage to a relationship.

This usually requires the help of a therapist. Behaviors like anger, shame, sadness, and fear are oftentimes rooted in our families of origin or earlier experiences that were traumatizing. Learning to better understand how and where these behaviors took root Is the key to learning how to manage them. Having an awareness of past emotional injuries can help one let go of these types of responses and manage emotions in a healthier way.

The long-term consequences of conflict can be daunting and can lead to the end of a relationship. But through self-awareness of how conflict is impacting your relationship, this can become an opportunity for growth and recreating a loving, satisfying bond again. 

Dr. Laura Richter is a licensed Marriage and Family therapist who works with individuals, couples, and families. Her specialties include: surviving infidelity, improving communication, beginning again after divorce and effective co-parenting after divorce. She is also a trained mediator, qualified parenting coordinator and collaborative law mental health professional. For more information, please call or text us today at 561-715-6404 to schedule a consultation to see how we can help.