Week 7: Conflict & Fears

Congratulations on getting past the halfway point of your Relationship Journals. We hope that you’ve already started to feel more connected to your partner.

Conflict is often thought of as a negative, and we try to avoid it. In this week's video with Cathryn and Rachel, we'll explore how healthy conflict has a crucial role in growing a healthy relationship and some beneficial tools for engaging in honest, healthy conflict.

Share below if you and your partner had any new revelations around conflict and your fears surrounding conflict.


Cathryn (00:00):

Congratulations! You have now crossed the halfway point for the Relationship Journal and The Companion Course. So firstly, thank you for committing to being here and keep up the great work. Here's the thing, no one likes conflict. I mean, unless you're a sociopath, but conflict is really important part of having a healthy relationship. I spoke to a friend once who was having problems in their marriage and they said that they knew they were in big trouble when they stopped fighting, when they stopped caring enough to bring something up. So conflict is inevitable in all of our relationships and it's really important that we learn how to navigate through it instead of avoiding it altogether. Because that's actually when the trouble really happens. You are going to learn a lot of really helpful tools this week. As you add these tools to your arsenal, you'll feel more confident when it comes to conflict and how to work with your partner.

New Speaker (00:51):

Okay, so we've been building up with a lot of good stuff and now we're at the week where we talk about conflict and your fears which is a lot of times where conflict comes from. So what's a non-confrontational way to express to your partner that something is missing or that a need is not being met without it becoming a huge fight?

Rachel (01:18):

Okay. So let's first deconstruct this word, confrontational. We use this word in our culture as a way to describe being aggressive. In a way, a confrontation is literally a meeting of two people to discuss something. So when we use the word like "I'm not confrontational", that means something different to every person because by definition what that means is "I don't like having conversations" and that's not typically what people mean. So when we say like a non-confrontational way of approaching somebody, what we're really saying is how do you go about it in a way where you're not poking, where you're not throwing stones, where you're not picking a fight and where you have the best chance for them to hear you and be able to come out the other side with anything productive and helpful. And the best way to do that is to meet somebody in a very calm, loving way.

Rachel (02:24):

So just like when we talked about the little kid looking to their parent to see how to react after they fall, when we're approached by our partner to have a conversation, we immediately read their energy. We hear their tone, we read their body language, you know, for those of us who just feel things and we, like, we feel it and we know, we know what's going on. So the best way to be non-confrontational is to approach your partner in the way that you want them to meet you. So calm, low tone, slow paced talking, right? Like things that indicate that you're not angry, you're not attacking, you want to have a conversation and that will prevent the other person from putting up their walls and getting defensive.

Cathryn (03:18):

And I think one of the things that you mentioned in a previous video was this idea of expressing it through what you're feeling, instead of what they did. One of the things that we talk about in the journal is this, describing what happened as if you're a news reporter, just reporting on it. So, I mean, no biases is what I mean like, it's a camera and it's just like this happened without being like "and this meant this" or "this meant that you meant this". And so if you sort of, you know, you can say "When you didn't come home on time and you were late and didn't call, this is how it made me feel. And next time I would appreciate if you could do this." Because there's no blame there or like, it's really just saying this is what happened, this is what I would like, or this is how it made me feel and this is what I would like you to do next time. And so it's very hard to get annoyed at that because there's no blaming or criticism in the thing. It's just a very factual fact - my feelings - next time.

Rachel (04:30):

Yes, yes. 100%. And on top of that I would piggyback on it and encourage folks to stay in first person. So instead of like "You came home late", "I saw you walk in the door at 12:05."

Cathryn (04:47):


Rachel (04:50):

Right? Like, there is a difference in the way that we perceive language and when sentences are started with 'you', we immediately know to be a little defensive. And so if we hear the word 'I' first we tend to listen because we know that that person is talking about themselves and our subconscious brain is like "Oh, what's going on?" When we hear 'you', we're like "What did I do?" And go immediately there. So like, you know, "I saw you walk over to the dishwasher and I watched you not unload it. I felt disrespected when you saw that the dishwasher was ready to unload and you didn't unload it. I would really love it if when you saw things like that, you could either unload it or acknowledge to me that you saw it and don't have time. How does that sound?" And then it gives the other person to be like "Sounds horrible, I hate it!" or like "Oh, that's it? Cool! Yeah, no problem."

Cathryn (05:52):

Yeah. So if there is a disagreement, what are some common ways that you can find middle ground to at least start discussing the conflict?

Rachel (06:04):

I think first, I just want to acknowledge that conflict is inherently a way to bring you closer. It is not meant to push you further apart from each other. And research shows that when conflict is handled well and by well I mean in a healthy way, you know, it actually does bring you closer and people feel closer after conflict. People feel more seen after conflict. And part of the reason why that is because when we do disagree on how something can be solved or what we want to do, we end up learning more about our partner as we're trying to come up with that compromise. So there's a difference between sacrificing and compromising and when we sacrifice, we give up something. When we compromise, we expand, we're not giving away. And so it kind of is like the difference between standing inside your comfort zone and expanding it versus stepping outside of it. Like, you can stand within your comfort and say "This is what I'm comfortable with" solutions wise and your partner can do the same and you'll find where they overlap. And in the meantime you're going to learn so much about your partner, if you can listen and not get scared or hear the societal messages of like "Conflict is bad, you shouldn't be fighting, this means something about your relationship." All it means is that you're two human beings, that's it.

Cathryn (07:46):

Yeah. This conversation reminds me of Friends back in the day when Chandler and Monica have their first fight and Chandler was like "Oh, it's over like we're broken up" and Monica was like "We had a fight, like we work on it and then we move on" and he was like "Oh, it's like this is a mature relationship, I've never been in one of these before."

Rachel (08:07):

Yes. That's like the one time that that TV couple is healthy and I love that example because it really is the one time that that TV couple is healthy.

Cathryn (08:16):

I know. That's like the one thing I remember.

Rachel (08:20):

Yeah. The rest of it is like what not to do in a relationship, watch Monica and Chandler.

Cathryn (08:25):

Yeah. So why does conflict happen in the first place or what's some common things that you see and then what happens during those moments of conflict in healthy relationships and then also like what are some unhealthy things that happen that we can try to avoid?

Rachel (08:46):

So conflict happens for a lot of different reasons. The most common is misunderstandings. It's really not getting what you're actually in conflict about. It is very rare that the conflict actually stems down to what the conflict is, right? Like, if you're having a conversation about what movie to go see, you end up getting in a fight about that conversation, not actually about what movie you're going to go see. Or about something in the relationship like "My needs aren't met as much as your needs" and we'll hear things like "You always pick the movie, you always decide what to do." And those are some things that we do want to avoid in conflict, using any like broad, "always", "never", "should", they're triggering words for people. You know, we hear them and again, we get on the defensive like "I don't always do anything."

New Speaker (09:48):

So we want to avoid that. Another thing to look out for is to educate yourself on the signs of emotional abuse. And I say that because we don't learn the difference between healthy communication, a healthy person who lost their temper for a moment and someone who is an abuser. When it comes to emotions, we don't see the bruise so it's a lot easier to say "Well, they didn't hit me." You know, it's harder to name so I encourage people to educate yourself on what gaslighting actually means not what they're saying in pop culture it means. Like, what it actually means. Educate yourself on the signs of abuse emotionally, so that you have no question in your mind that the conflict that you're having in your relationship is not crossing into that territory. And if you know those things, you'll be able to see them when they happen and you can then excuse yourself, do whatever you need to do. But unfortunately we're not taught those and so there...It is hard to tell the difference for a lot of people especially if they grew up in a loud household with a lot of conflict, it's very easy for that to just seem normal. And it's not, it's not okay to yell and name-call. And a lot of folks think that it is not because they consciously do but because it's what they grew up with.

Cathryn (11:31):

Yeah. Can you tell, you know, explain more, just quickly, about what gaslighting is. I mean, I've had it done to me it's incredibly frustrating but it's also very difficult to describe to someone else but you know, you know it.

Rachel (11:50):

100%. So gaslighting is a psychological manipulation tactic that someone uses to get somebody else to question their own reality. So that can manifest in a lot of different ways. It can look like confusing someone into submission, it can look like making it feel like it's their fault when they did nothing, it could be as literal as "Cathryn, your shirt is purple" and I say that enough times and you are going to start, maybe depending on how I say it, questioning if your shirt's purple. And we start to question what we know, and that is really scary. So if you are feeling that at all, if you're...if you have ever felt that sensation of "Did I say that? Like, did I, I don't, that doesn't sound right." Listen to that instinct and gut check yourself with somebody else, gut check with a friend, gut check with a family member, gut check with somebody else. But I do think that that word has gotten tossed around a little flippantly, you know, kind of like bipolar, people use it incorrectly in just pop culture talk. And gaslighting has been one of those things. It's like "Oh, they gaslit me" and really all they did was disagree. So I want to be very clear. It's psychological manipulation. And it's a very, yeah, it's very clear when it's happening.

Cathryn (13:32):

One thing I want to go back to you were talking about these generalizations when you're in conflict. And one of the things during my research for this product was being very specific about when you argue or when you're having a discussion that you're keeping it very in scope with what you're actually bothered by, and not expanding to a global criticism of, you know, let's bring up the thing you did three weeks ago that really annoyed me that now I'm going to just throw in this conversation. Nothing annoys me more than that because I'm like, "Well, why didn't you bring this up three weeks ago?"

Rachel (14:10):

Yes, yes. It's really, really, really important to stay on the topic that you're talking about otherwise it is so easy to just fight all the time. A good rule of thumb when I'm working with couples in session, they...we make an agreement and within that container, when we're talking about a specific conflict, they are not allowed to reference other times unless they ask permission. So "May I reference another time in order to give context for my feelings here." Like, they have to describe how they're using it so that it's not "Can I give this other example of how shitty...?" Right? Like, because it's harder to say that. So, you know, yes.

Cathryn (15:03):

How does our relationship with our parents or how we saw them have conflict cause us to... What the fuck? Oh okay.

Rachel (15:16):

No, you're good.

Cathryn (15:17):

What is the actual question? Okay. What role...what role does our parents relationship define how we handle conflict?

Rachel (15:34):

We, for better or worse, whether we like it or not, the first thing that we learn about romantic relationships are our parents. So there is not a child in this world that has the brain capacity at that age to say "I'm watching two adults have an argument who have background histories and traumas and who are not...didn't get education on communicating." Like, no. We see it and our subconscious says, "This is love, this is what a relationship is." And until we learn otherwise, until we challenge that and until we start practicing otherwise, we will subconsciously model off of our parents. Because in our brain in an effort to save space, it went into the auto pilot file folder of "Yeah, that's what, that's what a relationship is. Check, learned, got it." And so we will unintentionally replicate behavior that we saw which is why, when you hear therapists say things like "The best time to go to therapy is when nothing's going on", that's why. We all saw things and absorbed things from the world that aren't serving us in our current relationships, at our current jobs, and we need a space to talk about that and to unpack that.

Cathryn (17:03):

What do we need to know about our partner, like, each other in order to better handle conflict?

Rachel (17:11):

We need to understand how the other person receives feedback. And also in decision-making, what they value. So if you're having a conflict around a miscommunication or around, you know, "Hey, I really think we could have avoided this had this been communicated differently", that's one type of conflict. Another type could be "I don't understand why you want X" or like "Our vacation's coming up, why do you want to go here?" And there's this conflict about a thing or a destination or a choice. And that comes back to understanding your partner's values and what they're wanting and what they are valuing and their 'why', right? It motivates all of our behaviors so how are they feeling? What's their 'why'? And if we can understand that we will have a lot more empathy for where they're coming from. And when we have empathy for where they're coming from, that can coexist with whatever else we're feeling in reaction to what created the conflict. Those are a lot of words but I hope that made sense.

Cathryn (18:22):

One thing in the journal, we have people map out situations or times when there was conflict, what the trigger was and trying to understand okay, what fear was that based around? And I think understanding, you know, your partner's trauma or how they were brought up and understanding okay, they might react to something that you see as normal because they have some trauma from their past. And I think knowing more about them and knowing that stuff makes you more empathetic when it comes up. Because if you don't know it, you'd be like "Okay, this person is being so nuts, they're being insane" and you just don't understand it and so it's very frustrating whereas if you understand this pattern that they were imprinted, when they were a child, you're like "Oh, okay well, this is not normal but I see why they are like this." And so that's why we have this, you know, understanding why certain things that you do are triggered and the fear that drives them out of you. So that your partner better understands that and they can be more empathetic when that comes up instead of just being like "Well, this person's just acting completely insane."

Rachel (19:37):

100%. Context is everything. If we understand the context of a reaction, if we understand the context of a choice, the context of a decision, we start to understand the person and we start to understand what went on. When we have no context everything is just in a vacuum and it's a lot easier to make it feel like it's about us.

Cathryn (19:59):

So how can you start having these conversations around conflict management without falling into areas of fear or shaming your partner, where we're making them feel guilty or other types of disempowering emotions that would actually be a negative impact on your relationship?

Rachel (20:18):

I think the first thing is to commit together to working on the conflict. So get on the same page in terms of where you think, just like we did in the last section or in the section about strengths and weaknesses, you know, where in your conflict relationship are there areas of opportunity and where do you think you're really killing it? And sit down together and like, "You know, we really nail, like when we have this communications, we talk about that right away and we're good at that. It seems like when we disagree on X, Y, and Z, we have a lot of trouble, do you agree?" So you're like getting on the same page about what you're not on the same page about, so that there's this acknowledgement around you. And then the next time it happens it's like "Oh, this is one of the X, Y, and Z things. Okay, let's try to handle this differently. I'm going to say how I feel, then you're going to say how you feel, okay go." And it becomes this team effort to make how you navigate it better and more fun and exciting instead of tiptoeing around trying to avoid confrontation. Because that just creates anxiety and builds up resentment and all the...

Cathryn (21:34):

Yeah. So if a couple, they're watching this video and they start going through this and they start to feel triggered by some of these conversations, how would you best approach this?

Rachel (21:50):

So when we're triggered that means that there is something that needs to be processed or healed. And our partners are not our therapists. Like, even me as a licensed therapist, I'm not my partner's therapist. It's not my role. So if you feel triggered or you see your partner getting triggered and reflect to them that you're noticing that and they agree that they were triggered by something, my first and foremost recommendation is to find a therapist. Because there's something there that needs to be pulled apart and healed through. And it doesn't mean that there's something wrong with you, it doesn't mean that there's something wrong with the relationship. It means that there's a subject that's triggering and you're having a physiological, unconscious response to something. And most of us want to feel more in control of those responses and that's what therapy can help us do.

Rachel (22:48):

So that would be my first thing, is like, if you're using the word "TRIGGERED" and the word "TRIGGERED" is stopping you from really having these conversations, therapy might be necessary on an individual level to process through that stuff. Now, if it's more of like a lowercase t 'triggered' where like you're a little activated, but it's not flooded, it's...you're still functional, then it's about taking a time out. And time outs typically are used with kids and research shows that they're horrible for kids and amazing for adults. So when we take time outs as adults and this is why so many adults still go on smoke breaks even when they don't smoke anymore. We get, our nervous system calms down when we step outside and take a few breaths of fresh air. And in conflict, it's not often told to us that it is okay to say "I need to pause." And so identifying that beforehand and then being able to say to your partner "I'm feeling triggered, I'd like to pause." You can press pause for 10 minutes, go take a walk around the block, come back upstairs, finish the conversation, or, you know, continue the conversation. And you do that as many times as you need so that the conversation itself is the best possible.

Cathryn (24:24):

Yeah. I think sometimes in my past I...when someone's wanting to take a time out, I'm like "Oh, we have to fix this now." And after, you know, learning more about this, it's like "Oh, actually this will make it a better conversation if we take time and like understand what it is that we're trying to say."

Rachel (24:43):

Yes. And I think that where it can go wrong is when we don't say beforehand, "I may take a time out" or we don't like create that as an agreement, I can feel like someone's abandoning you in the middle of an argument. Like "I can't believe they left" and that's not what it is, it's really meant to serve the conversation. It is like you said, it helps, it doesn't hurt. So just having a conversation when you're not in conflict about adding in time outs or pauses or whatever you want to call them, will help implement that during the time without feeling that yucky abandonment feeling.

Cathryn (25:25):

Yeah. Okay, so let's finish up the section by leaving these amazing couples with something empowering around how to better communicate during, you know, this is probably one of the tougher sections that we've had so far and might bring up more things. So let's give them some words of advice.

Rachel (25:46):

I love this. First of all, you have everything you need. With this course, with this journal, you're in the right place, you have the tools, you're doing the things. Remember your "why", you're halfway through so this is around the time that we like forget our 'why', we're like "Why did I start this? I don't know, this is kind of hard." Remember your "why" and commit to yourself why you're doing this for you, for your partner and for the relationship. Why is it important for you to have healthy conflict? And really answer that question for yourself because the answer's going to be different for each and every one of you. And that is what will motivate you through the hardest parts of this.

Cathryn (26:40):

Awesome! Well, good luck everyone as you go through this section and we will see you next week.

New Speaker (26:45):

When you start your Relationship Journal this week, remind yourself that conflicts are not bad. As you go closer to understanding your partner's tendencies around conflict, where it comes from, where their fears come from, your love map will grow and you'll become more empathetic when things like this come up. You'll start to see that healthy conflict has a crucial role towards having a rock solid relationship. So when you paint conflict as a positive thing for your relationship, you'll be less likely to avoid it and just put off the trouble to be a bigger issue down the road. Alright, have a great week and we will see you guys next week.