The way we behave and respond during an argument is learned during childhood and adolescent years.
As adults, we can easily get triggered into the same coping strategies we developed in childhood to feel safe and maintain a connection with our caregivers.
Some of the common strategies I have observed in my coaching clients are:
- Keep quiet and do not say a word to stay safe. (freeze response)
- Avoid conflict (and others) at all costs – withdraw and hide, stay out of sight (freeze response)
- Please them to keep them quiet – agreeing, colluding, people pleasing, just to stop the argument (fawn response)
- Blow up in your face and retaliate – defensive, argue back, often aggressive, name-calling (fight response).
These coping strategies are a protection mechanism to keep us safe, and they’re patterns of behaviour and not who you are.
As adults, we have to re-learn how to be in conflict with others in healthy way, where we can learn to express our needs and our options, and how to have the capacity to hold more than one point of view.
TIP 1: BREATHE & PAUSE
Stop and take a breath. Make sure it’s a deep breath in through the nose and a long breath out through the mouth. As you do this a few times, give yourself the choice. Do you need to step away or can you choose to stop your automatic reaction to defend yourself?
It can be helpful to give yourself space when in an argument. Often we think we have to stay and argue. The space can give you perspective and an opportunity to regain your centre and find safety within yourself. Say to your partner, “I want to resolve this matter with you, and I also need to take a bit of time to gather myself’. Agree with your partner when you will return so that you can both feel safe and for them to not be triggered into a fear response.
TIP 2: TALK WITH THE TRIGGERED PART OF YOU
When we’re triggered, we go into autonomic conditioning. Part of that is a nervous system response and part of it is years of belief and thinking conditioning, we get caught in a story about ourselves.
So the opportunity is here for us to transform this.
Take a moment to go inside and be with the part of you that is triggered. Listen to her and talk to her. “What’s going on sweetheart? What do you need? What story are you getting caught up in?”
TIP 3: FEEL IT ALL
We have a tendency to want to avoid the big difficult feelings. Understandably, they make us uncomfortable, we don’t want to feel out of control and if we surrender to the feeling, it might not stop. At least that’s what our mind thinks.
So, see if you can drop into your body and be with the feeling, just for 60 seconds. Notice the feeling as a sensation, if you close your eyes, you will go inwards. If it doesn’t feel safe to close your eyes, keep them open and notice and observe the sensations. Speak them out loud (unless you’re in the shopping aisle). Naming our feelings is a form of emotional regulation, psychologists call it ‘Affect Labelling’ and it helps to attenuate emotions and release distress.
TIP 4: SUSPEND JUDGEMENTS & FIND NEW MEANING
When we’re upset we unconsciously fall into judgements about ourselves, others and the situation. What if after pausing and taking a few breaths to centre yourself, you seek to find a different perspective or meaning?
Now, I’m not talking about avoiding or toxic positivity, I am referring to the idea that could you in the moment, suspend all judgements about yourself and the other person, and ask yourself, “What else could this mean? OR Who would I be if I didn’t have this thought?”
You’re Not Alone
If you are having relationship difficulties, then please don’t struggle on your own. Challenges in relationships are opportunities to get out of the conditioned stories in our minds about who we are, other people and how the world works.
If you notice you are repeating the same old story or thought pattern, then perhaps it’s a sign for you to do your inner work with a professional coach or therapist.
I provide free consultations for anyone who is interested in transforming their relationships and having a healthier relationship with themselves.