By Erica Horechka
Alot of the content of the ideas behind this comes from resources used in the groups I run it is somewhat specific to romantic partners but can be applies to any kind of relationship. Its pretty practical but for me I cant start thinking about it without contemplating some of the above stuff. Also, I suck at this shit, and usually fall for people who also do, but I can tell you the consequences are dire if you don’t think about this stuff/develop your own tools around conflict etc, Obviously these tools aren’t the only or best but upon reflection, I know if I could use them more often, or if my partners did, my relationships would look allot more healthy.
Self talk is extremely important in every aspect of life, especially in relationships. Self talk is the little (often BIG) ‘voice’ inside our heads (or hearts or where ever), and doesn’t always communicate in words. Self talk isn’t simply feelings, or reaction. It does however lead to feelings and actions, but also can be in response to feelings. It’s what you tell yourself about what’s happening, about yourself about others or about an interaction. It makes up your inner dialogue. It affects how you communicate with others, how you experience events/situations/other people’s actions, what actions you take, and what conclusions you come to. You can communicate with your self-talk, learn to hear it, learn when your self talk is throwing you ropes, and when to avoid picking them up. Interventions and communication with your self talk is always possible, but rarely easy.
In every relationship there is topics that are conflictual, there are things we need to say to each other that are going to cause fights, that are going to be triggering, cause defensiveness and just all around suck.
When having conflict, it is very important to think about your ‘goals,’ intentions and hopeful outcomes. This will guide how you act, how the person you’re in relationship with will act and how both of you will experience the conflict, and obviously the ultimate result of the conflict. It also shaped your self talk. This will also effect the ‘dance’ or dynamic of the relationship in a broader context.
If your goals/intentions or hopeful outcomes of a conflict involve winning, being heard, getting your way or proving your right, your going to act in abusive ways. These are often goals we have in conflict, be honest with yourself, it is okay if those are your gut goals, it’s common; but not helpful. Even a goal like ‘I want my partner to know they fucked up and I am so hurt’ can be problematic. It’s very common for folks (I do it ALL the time) to feel the most important thing in that moment is having your feelings heard, (sounds reasonable enough, I know) but it leads to allot of abuse. Take time and space in that moment your partner may have more urgent needs than hearing your feelings. Here is where you need to learn to locate your container, your partner is NOT a vessel to hold your feelings and its not on them to alway be there to listen or take. I have been emotionally abusive because I felt like my partner was that..
There is all sorts of other intentions in conflict that can get in the way of healthy dynamics, for example avoiding conflict! Be gentle with yourself though!! Don’t beat yourself up if this doesn’t come natural. There is lots of reason why this doesn’t come natural (see earlier article). Be careful to not fall into the trap of self hate.
A helpful tool that I have learnt which has aided me in processing conflict, through the acronym PADESI:
Prepare – Engage yourself
Figure out what it is you want to communicate, what you feel and why you feel that way. In order to do this, you have to sit with some of those feelings and notice if they change, splash around in the container inside us that holds are feelings, don’t let it spill out into the other person, get to know the content. Set the stage for conflict inside of you. Note your self talk and engage with it in loving, kind, and reflective ways. Figure out your needs, why those are your needs and what feelings and thoughts go with your needs? Sort out your bottom line in the context of the conflict and what you are and aren’t okay with and why that may be. Also consider if what you’re asking for/communicating is reasonable, take into consideration the other person’s feelings (dont assume or take responsibility for them, but think about them) and prepare to communicate without the intention of winning. Note that you may hear things that you don’t want to, or are prepared for and try to prepare for being angry/big emotions.
Ask if this is a good time to chat, or just let the person know you need to make plans to chat and be prepared to hear no, don’t push if they say not right now. They may act defensively and remember that they haven’t had time to prepare yet, let them do stuff from step one. If they say not now, but then you two end up talking about it anyways, try and stop! Stick true to your and the other person’s gut boundaries; don’t work out of desperation.
Try and be somewhat objective here, talk about the facts, and try not to be loaded i.e “you don’t want to spent time with me, you went out four times this week without me, I’m so fucking hurt and sad.” vs “you say you’re going to go out tonight, this week you went out three times with out me” remember the goal here isn’t to just have your feelings heard/find evidence for the story you have told yourself (in this case that your the person doesn’t care about your feelings/doesn’t wanna spend time with you) it’s to let them know what the conversation is about and to present the facts. The idea here is present the facts (avoid words like always/never) first and then emotions next.
Tell them your thoughts, feelings and hopes. The other person isn’t in your mind. But still don’t be accusatory. I.E “I miss you and like spending time with you. I get scared/feel like you don’t wanna be around me when you go out all the time without me, it’s hard and I feel neglected. whats up?” vs “You always go out without me, you are neglecting me, your making me feel hurt, you don’t miss me or care.”Own your feelings and as basic as it sounds use I statements. What kinda self-talk goes along with the above two examples? if you dont prepare for this, and enguage with your self talk before expressing, it may not work that well and may lead to fights/abuse.
Say what you would like to happen, but make sure you ask, be clear and intentional and not vague. Again be prepared to hear no and compromise. i.e “I was hoping we could spend tonight together”
Invite the other person to respond. Ask; what do you think? not threatening, but opening it up for feedback/comprise.
This may sound idealistic and basic, but it is a useful framework when and it is useful when you want to bring something up try to go step by step with this. You have to check yourself talk at every stage in conflict and listen to where your thoughts are going – challenge your thoughts. Your thoughts and feelings are not a run-away train, as soon as you name them and talk to them, they often become more manageable.
A few other tips for yourself;
- You may not understand the other person’s reasoning, ideas or what they need to do, but don’t be critical of it, don’t tell someone their way of thinking is wrong.
- Remember you can learn from them, there is lessons they can help you find; even if the reality is they where in the wrong/they caused you harm.
- Ask for clarification if you don’t understand/think you do but aren’t sure
- If you don’t get the response you want, don’t push for it. (member the goals and intentions of conflict)
- be aware of how your body feels, our bodies tell us allot. Are you hot, cold, shaky etc. what’s your body telling you, do you need a break? to eat? to cry alone?
- set a time to fight that both people are happy about and STICK TO IT
- keep to the subject, don’t bring up past differences in the middle of a conversation. its ok to say I am triggered or reminded, but why are you bringing that up, talk it out with yourself first and be intentional.
This may seem incredibly obvious, but I think it’s something a lot of folks don’t practice, or at least don’t practice well, as it involves some often ignored pre-planning. Knowing when to take a time out involves being aware of your cues of anger/big feelings (not every escalates manifests as anger right away, I escalate in sadness/abandonment/fear so i’ve learnt my cues for those big feelings before they move to anger or before i start saying things ina unhelpful way. On a side note I hate the saying; ‘don’t say things you don’t mean’ cause honestly you often mean the shit you say, i.e I AM PISSED THIS RELATIONSHIP SUCKS, YOUR A ASSHOLE you sure as hell may mean that, doesn’t mean you should say it). You learn your cues to use time outs. We all need space, and time to engage in our own self-talk. The saying “don’t go to bed angry” leads to a large amount of abuse. It is a sentiment of desperation centered in the inability to sit with your own stuff. It’s actually very harmful to think you need to in that moment when you are angry or upset, deal with it.
A very important part of time-outs is setting a plan ahead of time, decide how you’re going to communicate you need one. Do this now, not when in conflict/escalated! It can be a hand single, a word, a sentence, whatever. Just make sure its pre-planned. Discuss ahead of time what a time out means; how long you’re going to be taking a time-out for, where you are going to go/what you’re going to do so no one is left guessing/fearing what is happening/feeling abandoned. Make sure you set a time for when you’re going to talk next. A time out is NOT punishment for either person; no one should be left wondering when or if they are going to hear from the person again. It’s fine to decide you need more than a hour but if you say you’re going to check in after a hour, make sure you do! When you leave for your time out do not do any verbal or physical gestures, don’t say anything, or slam the door, if you know you need a timeout end of conversation; no more points to be made or emotions to express! It’s ideal to not use substances (alcohol and other drugs) to distract yourself or call any friends during this time, and if you’re going to call someone make sure it’s not someone who isn’t going to challenge you/isn’t just going to console you/confirm the other person is a asshole.
Things that are damaging to relationships
All or nothing thinking: Often we are fast to respond in conclusions, we struggle to sit in uncertainty, we struggle to not make huge conclusions, finding meaning is hard and sometimes we can’t immediately understand our own or other people’s actions so we grasp using all or nothing thinking. This happens fast, and it happens inside our head and also out loud to the people we are talking to, sometimes it involves our own ideas about ourselves (i.e we fuck up once and decide we are a total failure) or in regards to other people’s actions and the conclusions we draw based on our own feelings. The more in tune though we our feelings, where they’re coming from and so on, the less likely we are going to do this. Try and catch yourself in this, check your thoughts/conclusions and words, are they statements or ideas/feelings and are you interacting with them as facts? We all struggle to hold our fears, triggers feelings or assumptions as just that, but if we validate them as feelings. Also using absolutes like: “you never do this, or I always do that” outloud or in your head is always going to cause strife and is probably not true and just makes the other person want to prove us wrong.
Obviously we aren’t objective in the way we experience our relationships, that’s fine. But it’s important to note what kinds of filters we often have so we can check them and maybe expand our experiences/interpretations. Do you only hear or remember the negatives or the positives? Do you focus on one details of an event instead of the lesson at hand? It’s like a single drop of dye in a clean glass of water if we do.
Our own stories
This is a BIG one . When we are listening and talking (both to the others and ourselves) are we merely trying to find evidence to support a story we think is true? Do we have a hypothesis i.e my partner loves someone else more; and constantly try and find proof for that, or twist events to fit that story? What alternative stories are we blocking out when we do this? How are we treating ourselves and our partner with respect when this is what we are up to? What are we protecting when we do this? It becomes very hard to learn a new dance when we do this. Obviously it’s important to note themes, and watch out for hurtful behaviour, but the goal is to create new stories and dynamics!
Involved in this is mind reading and fortune telling; you fear or think something is going to turn out bad/the person is going to act in a certain way, so you decide that’s a fact rather than a fear or possibility.
You take your emotions as facts, don’t get me wrong trust your heart and your gut, but try not assume: you feel, therefore it is. You feel abandoned, therefore your partner abandoning you.
You can not motivate yourself or another person by saying ‘you should have, you must have, etc. This just results in guilt, anger and resentment.
You see yourself as the cause of a negative outside event which you were not responsible for. i.e your partner doesn’t call, moves away, drops out of school, doesn’t cook dinner, falls in love with another person. Shit, it’s not always about you.
Erica is a high femme white queer lady living her days out in Guelph. She spends her time navigating her too big feelings, learning to support folks in unhealthy relationships/folks with abusive tendencies and trying to get to the bottom of things people say,do and think. You can find her nattering about joy, deep pain/unwellness and how cool it is that people have capacity to find new stories for themselves!