Conflict is usually seen as problematic and quite negative in the context of an intimate marriage. It doesn’t have to be that way! In fact, disagreements and conflict can help your marriage! Here’s how…
Imagine coming home and finding wet clothes in the dryer that should have been taken out hours ago. Or maybe your bed isn’t made…Perhaps it’s a bill lying on the table that should have already been paid and now there’s a late fee. Whatever the household responsibilities might be in your case, something was missed even though you asked your partner to take care of it and double checked to make sure it would happen.
My guess is, when something like this happens, you feel unseen, unheard, deprioritized, and/or just plain disrespected. Whichever way it manifests in you, when something important is dropped it becomes clear that you and your spouse are not on the same page. There is a conflict in your marriage.
It’s not just about not following through on responsibilities. Maybe your spouse pulls their phone out too much, or interrupts you when you speak. There are loads of circumstances where basic marital conflict occur and partners feel out of alignment. As anyone who’s been married knows, it can be very frustrating.
These kinds of situations happen to EVERYONE. It’s natural. It’s human nature. It’s part of sharing your life with another person–conflict is inevitable. The key to the success of your relationship, however, depends on what happens next to resolve the conflict.
Take an honest measure of yourself - no judgment here. How do you react when this kind of conflict arises in your intimate marriage?
Do you pick a fight? Do you shut down?
Or are you perhaps a person who ignores it but ends up taking out your frustration on your child instead, by yelling at them about something minor?
Maybe you prefer to distract yourself and pour yourself a glass of wine in an effort to simplify the situation?
These moments, these rather common conflicts, seem insignificant but they can be highly impactful. Sometimes they get under your skin so much that they can make your blood boil and send tingles right up your spine (not in a good way).
The good news is that these moments are also full of potential. Yes, POSITIVE POTENTIAL. IN fact, in long term happy marriages, conflicts can provide good, alchemical potential.
Each such conflict is an opportunity which can lead to more connection, better intimacy, better sexual intimacy, and more soulful love.
It all comes down to how you respond when it’s happening.
Put frankly, your conflict resolution in marriage is what makes the difference in whether a challenging moment sours things for you, or ultimately deepens the soulful love between you and your partner and ultimately brings you closer together.
Here’s how you do it:
Start by recognizing that your spouse’s behavior is impacting you. Listen carefully to yourself and acknowledge that their interest in their phone, or negligence in remembering to pay the bill, or whatever it is, means you no longer feel calm or generous.
This is where people tend to be unconscious and unaware, feeling we are not heard in our response when we actually have become reactive. We all have massive blindspots which result in our initial reactive response being the “truth”, whereas your “truth” is actually far more subjective than it first appears.
At this point in the conversation, it’s absolutely essential for you to take a moment to pause, and notice what’s going on. Recognize not only your spouse’s behavior but also how it’s impacting your own emotional landscape.
The moment you realize you are activated, you immediately, and simultaneously, have access to the power to shift and reclaim the agency, tapping into your ability to problem solve and resolve conflict. You can pivot and decide how you want to deal with the conflict, rather than involuntarily reacting.
Of course, this only works if you notice and then decide to make the appropriate adjustment. If you don’t notice it, then your internal experience will be determined by whatever event occurred, rather than having your own values and choices determine your response.
If you don’t take the time to clarify what’s happening for you, you’re most likely to end up having feelings of frustration, helplessness, rage, malcontent, and a sense of being unseen.
If, however, you recognize that you were triggered and interrupt the pattern, you will access sovereignty, agency, freedom, and the affirming experience that you are actively choosing your own responses. With practice, you will perceive that you have many more choices in how to respond than were at first apparent.
Once you notice you’ve been triggered in a conflict and you decide to respond with control and caring, what happens next?
Well, you could simply say that you are triggered and you need to take a beat to pause and regain your calm. Alternatively you might ask a question to understand the other person’s experience and motivation. You could also calmly say it’s important to you, and ask that your spouse needs to follow through the next time.
There are lots of different options which can work well for you. You must, though, recognize that you are, indeed, activated. From there you can discover the most collaborative and successful solutions to the problem at hand.
As long as you’re reactive and triggered, you’re likely to be blaming or defensive and that undermines how much connection is possible in that moment.
One of the best gifts of having a growth-oriented, intimate marriage is learning how to use these frustrating times with a partner you love as a playground for your own development. It’s an in-the-moment zen practice that creates amazing results.
When married couples remember they want one another to thrive it fuels the relationship. It greatly benefits your ability to problem solve. You can see your own patterns, and committing to expanding your capacities in the hard times paves the way for compassion, connection, and tender intimacy.
Being consciously aware of your triggers can be difficult because the very nature of being “triggered” means you may not realize it’s happening. The moment it happens your “primitive brain” overpowers your “conscious brain” which can make make you feel justified in your outrage and righteous responses. In allowing your “primitive brain” to take over, you are unintentionally creating disconnection in your relationship.
Staying conscious and shifting into a more open hearted presence increases the emotional safety in your marriage. This fosters emotional intimacy in the most delicious ways.
Can you recognize when you are triggered? Yes, you can. It just takes practice, patience, and trust that you’ll learn to catch it sooner the next time. And you’ll simultaneously see such moments in your relationship go from being a source of hurt to becoming times of helpfulness and hope.
Try it for yourself! And if you’d like to learn more about having a growth oriented relationship read my book Uncompromising Intimacy and check out my coaching programs here.