If you’re in a committed, conscious relationship, conflict and challenges are going to arise. (Really, it’s not if, but when—sorry, nice guys.)
That’s not a bad thing, though. Conflict has heat, and that heat has the potential to be a generator of passion and life.
The real crux of whether that heat will be something that brings us and our partner closer together or further apart depends entirely on how we and our partner respond to it when it does come up.
That is what makes or breaks a partnership.
Below are five basic keys to keep in mind so the heat of conflict doesn’t burn you out or burn your partnership down:
1. Remember You’re on the Same Team.
When challenges and conflict arise between you and your partner, it can be easy to try to find where you’re right and they’re wrong. The truth is, though, this either/or mentality leaves no winners. Would you rather be right, or would you rather be connected?
If you can remember that you are both on the same team, it takes the pressure off of that bottom of the ninth, bases-loaded-feeling that comes up when you’re in the heat of it. If being right trumps being connected, you’ll end up making your partner a loser. (And who wants to be on a team with a loser?)
2. Assume the Best.
Assuming the best in your partner is a radical, spiritual act. Assume that they had the best of intentions when they did what they did or didn’t do. Assume that they were doing what they believed to be right. Assume that, somewhere deep down, they were acting out of love. Doing this allows you both to stay in a place of curiosity instead of judgment. It’s in that curiosity where understanding is found.
3. Maintain a Loving Respect.
If you assume the best in your partner and you can remember that you’re on the same team, you should be able to treat them with respect. Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t express how you honestly feel—on the contrary, you absolutely should. But if you can maintain a loving respect toward them, you won’t express yourself in a way that degrades, demeans, or diminishes who they are, their value as a partner, or the integrity of their heart.
Remember that, deep down, you both want the same things: to feel safe, loved, and free. Treating your partner with respect, even in the heat of an argument, creates an environment for you both to feel that.
4. Take Time.
Sometimes, the best thing you both can do is to simply push “pause” and take time to cool off. Pushing through the conflict without regard to the needs of your nervous system usually leads to the confusion and exhaustion of all parties. If you’ve spent 15 minutes in the heat of it, acknowledge that it might be a good time to take a break, settle yourselves, and collect your thoughts and hearts.
In that time apart, remind yourself of what’s really important to you beyond the context of the specific challenge. Remember that this is a person you love, who loves you, and who wants the best for you. Allow yourselves some time to restore your sense of stability and connection before picking up the thread of resolution again.
5. Take Responsibility.
The fastest way to resolution is to identify what ways you are responsible for the environment, actions, and the context that fostered the conflict or challenge. Were you not present or sensitive to the communication of your partner? Did you prioritize yourself over the partnership in a way that was detrimental? Did you say you would do something and didn’t do it? Did you lash out because you were protecting your heart or because you felt ashamed?
Explore your part in the situation, not as a way to blame or shame yourself, but as a source of feedback for the ways that you could do better next time and grow as an individual and as a partner. Sharing how you’re responsible for contributing to the situation with your partner allows them to relax further and trust you deeper.
The above five are basic elements to resolving the conflict in your relationship. There are, of course, many others, but it’s a good place to start.
We can use the heat of conflict to burn away the dross of our shadows, habits, and patterns that have kept love at a distance while supporting our partner to do the same. Or, it can use us and burn down the foundation we’ve built our partnership on. The choice is ours.
Bring these up with your partner and discuss how you might use them as a guideline next time conflict arises between you. Add anything you both see could be useful for yourselves.