By Corinne Farago
No matter who you are or how happy you are in your relationship you’re going to experience conflict. Experiencing conflict in your relationship is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of wisdom. It’s simply a polarized dialogue between two people holding opposing positions. How we navigate this dialogue is determined by how skillful we are at moving through conflict as a couple.
The Saboteur mind vs The Sage mind
When our inner saboteurs are present in a conflict, emotions easily escalate. We create what is most certainly a false story about our partner that is full of judgment and blame. Our Saboteurs know exactly what to say in our minds, to make us right and our partner wrong.
When our inner Sage is present in a conflict, we exercise our wisdom muscles and bring tools of understanding and curiosity to the conversation. Our inner Sage listens more and reacts less. It seeks reconciliation and steps back from the heat of the moment, to ask some important questions, like Why.
Why? why? why?
Make an agreement with your partner that you’ll ask each other why you have chosen your position in the argument, not with a tone of demand, but with curiosity and a desire to understand.
Once they have answered, ask them again, why? And for a third time, ask them why again. Why do they feel the way they do? Why is it important for them? What is the fear or concern behind their position. Why?
Hearing the deeper ‘why’ behind our positions is often missed in a heated argument. If we’re in a triggered state, we jump over our underlying why’s and make defense and survival our primary focus. We want to be proven right and convert our partner to our perspective.
Going deeper into our curiosity enough to ask why 3 times, helps to intercept our Saboteur’s fearful judgments, and begin to dissect the needs behind the our partner’s position.
Asking why with the intention to really listen, offers our partner a chance to reflect on their needs and have the time to express them clearly.
Hearing our partner’s more vulnerable ‘why’ helps to awaken our empathy. When we experience empathy, we’re stepping into our partner’s shoes. We’re allowing ourselves to feel what our partner must be feeling from their perspective and position.
Once both parties feel heard in their ‘why’s’, we can begin to explore possible solutions where both partners’ deeper whys are acknowledged and taken into account.
Bypassing the pain of anger and finding resolution is a huge victory for a couple. Each victory builds the muscle memory of moving through disagreements quickly. The stronger those muscles become, the easier it is to find consensus and return to connection.
Rather than viewing conflict with a ‘grit your teeth and get through it’ perspective, I invite you to actually discover the gifts that can be found in conflict.
Gift #1 – Creating New Patterns
With every conflict there’s an opportunity to grow in our ability to resolve conflict and return to connection. We have the opportunity to recognize when our inner saboteurs are front and center, escalating emotions and armoring ourselves against the pain of disconnection.
Making the choice to deescalate a conflict is the first and most difficult step to take. We can imagine ourselves building new muscles every time we choose the path that leads to reconciliation over the path that leads to disconnection.
So, seeing conflict as an opportunity to exercise some new muscles that derail the escalation of anger or frustration, is the first gift of conflict.
Gift #2 – Deepening Trust
If you move through conflict being led by your Sage mind, you will deepen trust and connection with your partner. You’ll both begin to trust that conflict doesn’t have to rattle your core or threaten your relationship. It doesn’t have to pit one right person against one wrong person.
Your Sage mind understands that conflict as simply a stepping stone on the path to effective communication, listening, and finding a new shared position that acknowledges the underlying needs of both people.
Gift #3 – Getting to What’s True.
Conflict offers us the opportunity to speak our truth. If we’re scared about creating disconnection, we can get into the habit of suppressing our needs. Withholding our truth as a way to avoid disconnection only leads to resentment and more conflict down the line.
Having opposing positions with our partner, opens the door to communication. When our Saboteur is in charge, our truth is distorted by reactivity and accusations. When we’re in our Sage mind, and we’re curious about our partner’s deeper ‘whys’, and we’re building a safe place to speak our truth and be heard.
Healthy relationships make allowances for conflict to arise. They have the tools to intercept their Saboteurs and adopt a Sage mind, in order to find the gifts that conflict offers them. With the help of our inner Sage, we have the opportunity to create new patterns, deepen trust, and be heard in our truth.
Consider a current or recent conflict you’ve had with your partner and imagine how you both might replace the angry voice of your Saboteur with the wisdom of your Sage.
How would learning your partner’s more vulnerable underlying needs, quiet the judgmental voice of your inner Saboteur? How would the conflict have progressed if both of your Sage minds each took the time to ask ‘why’ three times?
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