Melinda braced herself as her husband Michael walked across the room. He had a look of dissatisfaction on his face that made her alarm bells go off. Before he had a chance to say anything to her, she attacked him verbally. She insulted him, using his insecurities against him to protect herself. She thought attack is the best form of defense, hurt before you are hurt.
Michael, her husband, attacked back. Both were now trying to hurt the other to regain control. The blaming language was a way for them to protect themselves from vulnerability. Both feared rejection and abandonment and thought the best thing was to reject the other person first. The conflict damaged the relationship as neither partner trusted the other partner not to hurt them. Both felt guarded.
Conflict is an opportunity to repair problems in your relationship. As hard as it is to hear that your partner might be dissatisfied, listening can bring you closer and increase intimacy. Here are some pointers to help you resolve and repair instead of damage your relationship during the conflict.
1) Listen without judging. When people are hurt or angry, they tend to only focus on the negative aspects of their partner. Remember that your partner has other traits that led you to fall in love with them. If you were to listen and observe what your partner is saying instead of judging, their comments might hurt less.
2) Let it land. According to John Gottman, letting your partners criticisms land without becoming defensive helps couples to repair. Listen to your body and if you are feeling overwhelmed, ask your partner for a moment to breathe. Reflect on your feelings and ask yourself what insecurity is being opened. Space is ok to calm down, but the cold shoulder is punitive and a form of emotional abuse.
3) Respond and don’t react. Attacking language or feeling on the defense can send you into fight or flight. Once you are in fight, it is hard to come out of it. How can you respond as a calm adult instead of lashing out? What do you need to say to yourself? If you feel attacked by your partner, a simple thing to say is, “That was hurtful.” Non-violent communication is a way to focus on needs instead of criticism. What does your partner need? What do you need? How can you put your needs forward in a way that can be heard?
4) Constructive versus destructive criticism. Constructive criticism aims to help the other person succeed. Destructive criticism seeks to devalue the other person for control. Constructive criticism uses a gentle start-up versus destructive criticism, which involves a harsh start-up. If your partner uses destructive criticism against you, understand that it is more about them than you. Either they feel insecure and put it on you or feel a need for control. Let destructive criticism go over your head so that it does not damage your self-worth. Avoid destructive criticism in your language with each other.
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Although I am a registered clinical psychologist with the Hong Kong Society of Counseling and Psychology, I am not a licensed psychologist or any other type of licensed therapist in the United States. The information I am providing here is educational and informational. This social media page does not provide professional advice, nor does it create a professional-client relationship or any other type of relationship between us. You should always consult your own licensed mental health professional before making any changes regarding your mental health. My goal is to educate, guide, consult, and empower you regarding your mental health journey. Always consult your licensed mental healthcare provider(s) and never disregard or delay medical advice based on information posted on this page or post.