Mindfulness in Moments of Conflict with Your Partner

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When conflict arises, why does it feel so utterly impossible to think, listen, and communicate with the people we love? Interestingly, the answer is rooted in a prehistoric/primitive set of biological responses.

Our brain is wired to protect us from perceived danger. So, when it senses a threat, an alarm bell is sounded, triggering our ‘fight or flight’ response. Our body responds; increased heart rate, shallow breathing, flushed face. Our ability to think clearly decreases, our attention narrows, and we cannot see any other perspective than our own. It is as if there is a flashing red light cautioning us, “danger ahead”. Knowing this, it becomes easy to understand why so many couples have trouble communicating effectively during moments of conflict.

Conflict is inescapable in every relationship. Conflict also wreaks havoc on our brains. How can we therefore, take control of these prehistoric/primitive responses? How can we better manage our physiological reactions in moments of conflict?

One way to change these hard-wired reactions is to develop a practice of mindfulness. However, asking ourselves to be present of (and not run away from) our body’s reactions is, of course, easier said than done. Those uncomfortable and hot-tempered reactions and our screaming instinct to “get me out of here”, are at the heart of most couple’s destructive reactions. The good news is, rather than feeling controlled by our impulsive and often-destructive reactions, our ability to control our thoughts and actions, can be managed with mindfulness training. In other words, mindfulness can help cultivate our capacity for self-control.

By definition, mindfulness is the task of actively noticing things. It is a state of observing one’s thoughts and feelings from a distance, or taking a step outside oneself. Mindfulness is accepting those thoughts and feelings as they are, without judgment. The present moment is neither good nor bad, right or wrong, it just is. Therefore, being mindful of what is happening in our body and the triggers that follow will help our nervous system recalibrate. It will allows us to decrease the tunnel vision that reduces our ability to listen to our partner in moments of conflict. It will also decrease our impulse to attack or withdraw. Expressly, becoming mindful during a conflict will give you a fighting chance.

For a list of mindfulness exercises see the link at the end of this article.

Ways to employ mindfulness with your partner during conflict:

Mindful listening

Mindful listening involves sensing, processing and responding in empathic ways. However, when we become distressed, our ability to be an active listener significantly decreases. Often, we may feel the need to defend ourselves or we are preparing our rebuttal while our partner is still trying to communicate. Yet, one of the most basic human needs is to feel heard and understood. This means we need to find relative composure if we genuinely want to hear what our partner has to say.

To actively listen, we first need to recognize our body cues, like a racing heart. Part of mindfulness training is learning to identify these cues. For instance, when we feel our shoulders tense up, or our breath become shallow, we might communicate to our partners that we need a break so that we can regulate ourselves enough to genuinely listen. Most individuals ignore this sensation and ultimately end up escalating their conflict. In other words, understanding our cues and triggers will help us override negative thoughts and sensations, which will lay the groundwork for mindful listening.

Non-verbal modes of mindful listening are: eye contact, body language, and undivided attention. Also, genuinely reflecting back, asking questions, and acknowledging our partner, are important ways to show you are listening and understand. Mindfulness attunes us to our partner and tends to create a bond of empathy. Likewise, when our partner feels heard, his/her openness to listening to our point of view significantly increases.

Mindful speech

The spirit of mindful speech comes out of reverence. Mindful speech involves responding in ways that convey meaningful and effective heartfelt messages. Many couple conflicts often involve thoughtless impulsive retorts in moments of frustration. We may blurt out something completely inappropriate, only later to realize that we’ve just hurt the person we love the most. Or we are so disconnected from ourselves in that moment, that our speech does not reflect how we truly feel. Often our challenge is to control these hot-tempered reactions and to speak less mindlessly, especially during conflict. For instance, yelling at our partner instead of expressing we feel angry, or telling our partner how awful they are for missing dinner -yet again, instead of expressing how disappointed we feel and how much we miss having meals together.

When we bring a dedicated attention to how we speak to our partner, we find not only synchronization, but also genuine respect and consideration for our partners and ourselves.

In as much as mindful speech involves communicating wholeheartedly, it also involves connecting to ourselves enough to identify what we feel. Developing a mindful practice encourages both self-control and connection. A good thing to remember is that mindless speech creates disconnection (from self and other), and mindful speech creates connection (to self and other).

Self-awareness

Self-awareness gives us greater control of how we speak and listen. Many relationships deteriorate because of a lack of self-understanding. Knowing ourselves can significantly eliminate dysfunctional patterns and give us the power to decrease conflict. “Know thy self”, is the key and foundation to healthy communication. Moreover, until we feel good about who we are, we’ll likely never be content with what we have. Self-realization is the greatest gift we can give our partner.

The practice of mindfulness encourages self-awareness. This allows us to see ourselves (identify our communication patterns), and how we may contribute to the conflict. Subsequently, we will be able to respond to our partner with more control, clarity and skill. For instance, knowing that you shut down or perhaps become aggressive in conflict situations can help untangle relationship patterns that significantly sabotage healthy communication. You will be more grounded and have greater self-control in those distressing moments.

Mindfulness—the practice of non-judgmental awareness—can help us communicate in more meaningful and healthy ways with our loved ones. It can positively affect how we speak and listen to one another. The fact is, our basic impulse to protect ourselves is automatic and unconscious, however if we are mindful we can enable ourselves to consciously communicate with our brain rather than succumb to the fight or flight response. Employing a mindful practice can help reduce reactivity, increase compassion, self-understanding and flexibility, especially during conflict.

Tips to override your nervous system & practice mindfulness during conflict:

  • Stay present
  • Practice mindful listening
  • Notice when you are being provoked
  • Cue yourself to calm
  • Feel your reaction (don’t act on them)
  • Let go of judgment (of self & partner)
  • Override negative thoughts
  • Breathe deeply to regulate and reset system

Daily mindfulness practice with partner:

  • Breath together (see Tantric breathing exercises)
  • Notice 5 new things in your partner
  • Take at least two minutes per day to show affection
  • Mindfully gaze into each other’s eyes

Visit this website for a list of mindfulness exercises: https://goo.gl/a1RQef

Some of the activites include:

  1. The Raisin Exercise
  2. The Body Scan
  3. Mindful Seeing
  4. Mindful Listening

And more

 

Written by: Jennifer Berbrier