Conflict Resolution Tips – Part 3

The Feelings Conversation

As I described in my last entry, there are generally three types of core conflicts that emerge between partners. The “what happened” conversation arises out of disagreement as to what factually occurred, often leaving each party pointing the finger at the other. In this next conflict, the feelings conversation, a more insidious development begins. One or both partners have decided to bottle up or not fully express the feelings they are experiencing, causing significant downstream effects.

Assume you have been feeling slighted by your partner lately because they are coming home from work late more often. You are not feeling the connection you did when your partner was more available. One of the detrimental things we do in these situations is trying to bottle up our feelings and frame the issue in a more logical manner. You inform your partner they have responsibilities around the house that are not being serviced because of their lateness. In their mind, it was implied that you understood this was a busier than usual time of year and coming home late was necessary. They dismiss the situation to avoid further conflict. At this point, there isn’t really much room to resolve the core issue because it isn’t discussed: you feel neglected as a result of the late hours being worked.

When left unchecked, situations that fall under the feelings category can result in what Dr. Sue Johnson calls the “protest polka.” This is the most widespread negative habit that emerges in relationships. One partners protests, usually in a negative way that also masks their true feelings, and the other steps back emotionally, not knowing how to handle what they perceive as an attack. The loop then continues in perpetuity as one person feels more and more unheard as the other, feeling more and more attacked, continues to step back.

As with the “what happened” conversation, awareness is the first step to rectifying these situations. Without acknowledging what’s happening, it becomes impossible to find a solution. Both parties have a responsibility here. The protestor must learn to be honest with themselves so that they can initiate a proper dialogue with their partner. For example, the individual above should simply state that their partner’s longer hours have left them feeling a little more needy than usual. If said in a way that comes from love and not accusation, their partner should be ready and willing to move toward a caring resolution.

As the receiving partner, this means validating the other’s feelings. Simply acknowledging that you did not realize their feelings were hurt, and that you can understand why they would feel the way they do, goes a very long way. It’s often these two ingredients that provide the catalyst for a solution. With a safe and open platform established for dialogue, the late partner might then ask what would make their significant other feel more secure during times in which coming home earlier is not an option. Exploratory questions like this are always helpful in the feelings conversation. You never know what else might come up that you hadn’t realized were buried ages ago.

In the next segment, I will discuss the final conversation (the identity conversation) followed by a brief statement on how to recognize that the time to move on may have come.

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