No partnership exists without it. While for some, conflict is indirect, passive, or tame, for others it’s explosive, volatile, and maybe even dangerous. When disagreements arise, it can be hard to know if trying to work through the argument will be beneficial, or if a conversation will just make it worse.
Understanding your brain and your body’s physiology can help you decide if it’s a good time to talk about difficult things in your relationship or when to take a break.
When threatened, our brains decrease the amount of blood going to the frontal lobe, the part of the brain associated with thinking and decision making. Instead, blood increases to the back and lower parts of the brain, which are responsible for survival. The brain is flooded with adrenaline, a hormone that prepares the body to fight or flight by increasing blood flow to the extremities, and then norepinephrine, which heightens the senses. It’s hard to think clearly when you’ve been activated. And it’s not because you’ve done something wrong- it’s because your brain and body are trying to keep you alive by turning off the reasoning zone of the brain and turning on the fighting part of the brain.
These physiological systems are an incredibly powerful tool for survival. For most couples, however, this activation can prevent a couple from experiencing productive conflict resolution. So when you’re activated it’s NOT a good time to have an argument. When you realize you’re activated, pause what you’re doing or saying and take a few deep breaths. Remind yourself that you are worked up because your body is trying to protect you. Assess whether or not you are actually in physical danger in this moment of conflict.
If so, focus on finding safety. Call for help, flee the scene, find protection. If not, try telling your spouse that you need a minute to regroup before continuing the conversation. Take some space away from your partner and focus on your body.
Is your body tense? Stretch.
Are you thirsty? Drink some water.
Are you sweating? Find a way to cool off.
Give your body what it needs to know that you are safe.
Then come back to the discussion and try again. This is where many couples go wrong. They forget to come back to the conversation. Avoidance isn’t resolution, it’s only a temporary fix. Let your partner know that you’re in a better state to work through the problem and try again.
If you want some support in this, give me a call. We’ll work together to practice these skills, work through conflict, and experience relational peace.
Couples & Family Therapist
Life is hard and we all go through times of suffering. But feeling overwhelmed, constantly arguing, and surrendering to the current norm doesn’t have to be the end of the story. I help couples and families to experience the meaningful change that they long for.
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