The interesting thing about relationship conflict is that we often can’t see the role that we are playing. In fact, I believe that we all have blind spots in our lives, especially around our relationship conflicts.
Some people realise that their behaviour is a cause for stress in their family and then blame themselves for everything. “It’s all my fault…I am (whatever it is that they do) and I can’t seem to stop myself”. One of the triggers for both the behaviour and the self-recrimination is alcohol dependence or binge drinking. Any addictive behaviour can feel overwhelming when trying to stop on one’s own. The main problem being in the unconscious mind where the feelings and desires are stored. Trying to stop with willpower alone is exhausting and often only effective in the short term. I’m always amazed with the exceptions who stop cold turkey from an addictive behaviour, but they are definitely in the minority.
Other people get stuck in the mode of blaming others. It sounds like this “because they did “x” I was forced to react, so it’s all their fault. If only they didn’t do “x” we wouldn’t have the conflict.”
There are a few problems with that way of thinking. The biggest is that they see themselves as a victim of what the other person is doing. That is the least powerful position to be in and gives both the power and the responsibility to the other person.
The other problem is that we can only change what we can own about our self. That doesn’t mean that every issue is caused by a 50/50 split in responsibility. In fact it often is weighted to one side or the other.
The other common problem is that everyone is trying to change the other when they are already ‘triggered’ and in fight or flight state. In fact it’s fight, flight, freeze or collapse, but that’s another story all together.
What researchers have found with brain imaging is that when a person is triggered, their amygdala is wide open and enlarged and the other parts of the brain are switched off. That means that language, creativity and all other forms of problem solving is turned off and the person’s only left with the fight or flight. They can hear what is being said to them, they just can’t process that information.
The truth is that in most relationship arguments one or both people are triggered and can’t process the information. So, people are angry but no one is listening. What I say to my couples about this “you might as well be talking to the wall”, for all the good it does to be talking while triggered.
The best course of action is to recognise the triggered state, learn to calm down and then discuss the issues when all parties are able to think creatively and resolve the issues. Respecting self and other is key here. Letting everyone have the time to calm down and be fully present for the post-mortem of the argument.
There are a number of skills and techniques that can speed up the process of calming down emotions. Once again, it’s great to have these skills available, to avoid arguments going around and around again and again with no one able to listen and respond. Most arguments are like a re-run of a bad movie and can degenerate into blame of one another.