Addressing and Resolving Conflict in Relationships

Conflict is often the result of misunderstandings (or lack of understanding) between people. Rarely are they are about incompatibilities. We all want to be understood, but it’s impossible once we reach a state of conflict.

In this article, we will focus on how we can act in moments of conflict and methods of deeper understanding and communication.

What Happens in Moments of Conflict?

Conflict can get our blood pumping and adrenaline racing, leaving us feeling on edge. It isn’t uncommon to feel intense physical symptoms. Here’s an example of how conflict can start and impact the body:

A close friend just asked me a question that’s caught me off guard and I don’t want to answer. I’m feeling angry, my heart is beating faster and my vision is getting narrow. I am beginning to hyperfocus on their body language and tone of voice. I’m feeling more and more hurt and explosive. I don’t want to be here. I never want to see them again.

All of this can happen in a split second during an uncomfortable conversation. In these moments of frustration, hurt, or being caught off-guard, it can be difficult to recentre yourself and not take it personally. It’s important to notice the feelings and sensations that arise in order to work on how we handle conflict.

couple in heated argument

Why do we React This Way?

Our default and automatic reactions to moments of intensity can go all the way back to childhood. In these moments, we sometimes emotionally regress to an earlier age. We become the wounded child within us. 

Too much stress is not easy to handle for anyone, and moments of conflict can become too much for just about any one of us. When this happens, we become overwhelmed and lose our connection with our adult capacities. 

What does this look like? Well, we might begin to react very intensely or shut down emotionally in an unconscious attempt to protect ourselves and we might want to leave the space we’re in altogether.

Some of these automatic reactions might have helped us survive when we were children.  

If my mother got very angry with me in childhood when I asked for something, maybe shutting down and becoming very quiet in those moments saved me from being abused even more. But the same reaction today might negatively impact my romantic relationship. 

couple in conflict

Navigating Difficult  Moments

In moments of emotional intensity, practice pausing and taking a deep breath. Notice your feet on the floor. Maybe take a moment for yourself and go for a walk around the neighbourhood. 

Another method is to have a safe word with your close friend or romantic partner. This could even be “stop.” When the safe word is spoken, everybody stops and stays with their eyes closed for 2-3 minutes. During this time, stay with your breath and notice the wounded, angry, or scared child in you. Put a hand in your body where you notice this child and stay with them.

Continue talking only if you’re now feeling more settled within yourself. Anger is not a problem, but aggression is. You can stay angry (fired up) and also be connected with your heart while you clarify how you feel and what you need from your partner. 

friends resolving conflict

Conflict is part of life. The world is made up of people with unique experiences, and how we all address conflict and hard conversations varies. What matters are the choices we make in moments of conflict and how we decide to protect ourselves.

At Georgia Strait Women’s Clinic, our approach includes individualized care and a range of therapeutic methods to address your concerns. We offer CBT, Somatic Therapy, Hakomi, DBT, Hypnotherapy, and EMDR along with a variety of workshops. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health and/or addiction, please contact us to learn more about our services.