Love coach: How to end toxic relationship conflicts

We often forget that a relationship is the integration of two nervous systems.

This person we attach to has a far more significant impact on our nervous system than others.

That means they can calm but also excite us easier.

That’s why we get so easily triggered by our partner but not our colleagues, friends, or strangers.

It’s also why our partner’s touch can calm us down far better than the touch of a stranger if you are securely attached.

That’s why the most crucial skill couples need to learn is how to regulate their nervous system, so when we feel anxious or fearful, we can calm down, and when we feel unmotivated, we can create excitement.

Therein also lies the balance between boredom and anxiety. Too much excitement creates fear and anxiety, and too little cause boredom.

The destructive conflicts in relationships happen for two reasons.

Attachment fears

Conflict starts when we reach out but either anticipate or feel that our needs are not met.

Our most core need is for safety, and when we feel unheard, not important, or valued, we feel unsafe.

Once the anticipation has been established that you and your partner will not meet these safety needs, the conflict will happen more and more.

You can solve the logical issues, but the conflict will continue until the underlying safety need is met.

That’s why partners often express they feel they can’t win as no matter what they do, the conflict, criticism, avoidance, etc. continues.

That’s because safety has not been reestablished.

I work with this daily in couple counseling as a relationship coach, and the transformation, once safety is established, is still astonishing.

Attachment is critical to our survival and is a hard-wired evolutionary response.

We feel safe when we know our caregivers will respond to our needs as our very survival depends on it.

While we have grown up and are adults, and our closest attachment might now be our parents, then the fundamental needs are the same.

When we feel we might lose that attachment, we respond with blame, criticism, attack, which is a strategy used to get an emotional response, any emotional response, so we know our partner still cares enough to engage.

You can see the attacks or blame as protest behaviour.

It’s also a natural fight response when stress is triggered, as it would be when we fear losing an attachment.

The other typical response pattern to attachment fears is to do the opposite of attacking, to escape by withdrawal.

This way, we protect ourselves from the rejection of not having our needs meet and the pain that entails.

It’s also a helpless state as we have given up even trying.

This is much more dangerous than the protest behaviour described above.

However, the blame and distant cycle reinforce the fears of abandonment, as blame will make the other defend or retreat, which creates more emotional distance and feeling of abandonment.

The cycle then repeats itself.

What your partner is trying to communicate when they attack or blame you is:

Can I reach you?

Are you available when I need you?

It’s a clear sign that their need is to feel secure with you.

If you experience this protest behaviour, find out your partner’s attachment style and love language so you can show them you care and value them.

Don’t try to argue with whatever logical reason they are attacking you for.

It’s just a cover-up for some underlying attachment fear.

Trying to use logic will likely have zero positive effect and only create more conflict.

Until the underlying emotional need is met, it will only continue.

Someone, I dated once got angry that I could not attend her friend’s birthday party with her.

I instantly realised that her anger was not about the party, and if I could come or not, she felt I did not want to integrate more in her life.

Her concern was about my commitment and if I and wanted to be part of her life.

I had also felt frustrated that she had not been part of my children’s lives.

So, I said to her, “is it not absurd that we get upset with each other when what we are trying to say is that we care so much about each other that we want the other to be a bigger part of our lives.”

She said yes instantly as I had recognised the unfulfilled attachment need below the surface conflict.

I joined her friend’s birthday party to follow up on my verbal commitment to action, and we had a chance to be more precise about our needs.

The conflict was gone before it had even really started, and it all lasted 5 minutes.

Men often get stuck arguing about the logic of what their partner brings up as men have been raised to use logic far more than their emotional circuit.

Address the emotional need, and the conflict will dissolve into thin air.

Projection

Projection plays out in two distinct ways.

We presume others experience the world the way we do, and so we expect them to share our experience, understand our view, and act how we would act.

Because of this bias, we get upset when they don’t automatically see the world from our view.

When they don’t automatically understand what we need and why.

When they don’t act how we want them to act.

These projections cause many misunderstandings and conflicts.

So if we can replace the presumptions and expectations of how others experience the world and how they “should” act with curiosity to understand their experience.

We replace our expectations, leading to disappointment and resentment with questions such as “How did you experience what just happened?” “How did x impact you emotionally?” or “What do you need right now?”

The second part of the projection that causes conflict is our past hurt that is dormant triggers that make us interpret our partner’s actions through a lens of past pain and project all that emotional baggage to our partner.

You can typically spot this by the excessive reaction to a situation. Learn more about triggers on my blog.

As a dating coach, I have learned that it’s important to talk this over in premarital counseling before making significant commitments like marriage to ensure you can make the marriage work.

In the next article, we will look at how to solve these issues using regulation and re-connection strategies.

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