We were standing in the supermarket deli section where they keep the hummus and salami.
The conversation started out routine. We were discussing the logistics for an upcoming trip. And, as is sometimes the case with us, we had vastly different views on what should have been a simple situation.
He said something that struck a nerve. I could feel my face get hot and I had an overwhelming urge to be anywhere but in that deli aisle. I told him I was uncomfortable and we could talk about it later.
Later turned out to be 10 minutes in the future, situated between the canned tuna and the marinades.
I can’t remember who brought it up, but I could sense he was annoyed and I was still firmly in fight or flight mode—but moving quickly toward fight.
We stayed calm, trying really hard not to be “that couple.” You know the one. The couple that loses their cool and decides to go 10 rounds out in public on a Sunday afternoon when their neighbors are just trying to buy eggs and juice boxes for the week. By the time we were in the car, I had talked myself out of fight mode and was determined to approach the situation with a level head.
Unfortunately, he was not…
Conflict in relationships is a big trigger for me. Maybe the biggest.
In the past, I’d often retreat into myself at the smallest sign of a disagreement. My anger and anxiety would create an emotional cocktail that rendered me kinda useless. And then there were the times my anger would take on a life of its own and, well, I’d be cruel. I’d rage…I’d fight fire with extra-strength fire.
Over the past few years, I’ve made it my personal mission to work on how I respond when I’m triggered. To find a middle ground between being emotionally useless (crying in my room, unable to even verbalize how I feel) and emotional unhinged (spewing all my bottled-up negativity at whoever is in earshot).
And I’ve learned that the first step is to become aware. To notice how I’m feeling in that moment without reacting from those feelings. To recognize that who I am in the middle of conflict is usually not the me I need to be to work toward a solution to that conflict.
So I allow myself the space to get quiet without stuffing my feelings down. The space to physically separate from whatever or whoever triggered me, even if it’s just being in a separate room. The space to do something that will regulate my emotions and my breath, whether that’s listening to music, having a snack, or watching a comforting movie.
Once I’m me again—the calm, rational me that isn’t on the verge of tears or cursing others out in my head—I know I can see the conflict for what it is: a chance for me and my partner to learn something useful about each other and ourselves, something that can help our relationship grow.
And when I need an extra little push to get me from emotionally triggered to emotionally steady, I read these quotes:
“The best fighter is never angry.” ~ Lao Tzu
“When we face pain in relationships, our first response is often to sever bonds rather than to maintain commitment.” ~ bell hooks
“You can disagree with someone without making them wrong.” ~ Silvy Khoucasian
“If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?” ~ Rumi
“The journey is learning that pain, like love, is simply something to surrender to. It’s a holy space we can enter with people only if we promise not to tidy up.” ~