Emotional pressure drives us, and not in a good way.
Often during conflict in relationships, we are driven by our emotional urgency to act and say things that we will often regret afterward.
Urgency does not bring out the best in us. It is not our natural state. It is the result of conditioning. It is often invisible to us when it is happening. We don’t realize our speech is pressured or that we are speaking louder than normal. We may not even be aware of the physical sensations of urgency. It is a blind spot.
This makes getting more in tune with our internal physiological and emotional feedback that lets us know we are feeling urgent, vital to our self-care and the care of our relationships.
According to the Gottman Institutes' research, the first three minutes of a conflict discussion predicts with 96% accuracy how the rest of the conversation will go and with 80% accuracy how the rest of the relationship will go six years down the road. And most of us are completely unaware of how we are showing up in those first three minutes. Those early minutes are usually dominated by our unconscious defense mechanisms and coping strategies that do not have our wellbeing or the wellbeing of our relationship in mind.
In order to have less conflict and less painful conflict conversations, rather than focusing on trying to change high conflict moments to start with, begin by becoming become more aware of the feeling of urgency in day-to-day life. Many of us are living with chronic stress and anxiety without even realizing it.
It becomes the unhealthy normal that we adjust to. We tune out the discomfort of our feelings because we think we need to in order to cope with life and not fail. Unfortunately, this leaves us without the healthy feedback of our emotions. When we tune out feelings of stress and urgency, we don’t know when to slow down and take a breath. Then it is easy to get strung out, lose our bearings, and find ourselves in conflict with our partner.
One of the main reasons Angus and I ask the couples we work with to take the time out of their lives and stay in a retreat-like setting when they work with us is so they can become more attuned to their feelings of urgency and stress. These feelings often persist even when they aren’t in their day-to-day lives because they don’t leave their habitual thoughts at home. Recognizing that their relationship challenges are a reflection of their own state of mind, helps to point them in the direction of where change and transformation occurs.
The feelings of stress and urgency that we all experience as humans result from the meaning we make up. Angus and I did an improv class recently with our guides in our Practitioner training program. It was a lot of fun, but it took me a bit of time to get out of my head and not have my feelings of urgency and anxious thinking get in the way of being able to enjoy the games. This was a completely low-stakes situation, but the urgency was habitual.
This helped me to realize how invisible my urgency is and how unconscious I can be being caught up in thought. But this awareness has helped me to break free. I am better attuned to when I am feeling sped up and when my nerves are kicking in.
There is nothing to fix here because all of this is part of the design to try and keep me safe, but it is based on the faulty logic that I made up. Faulty logic that tells me I need to get things right so I don’t make a fool of myself or that tells me I can’t say something because I’m afraid it won’t keep the peace. I have tons of faulty logic born out of misunderstandings from my past. When I am relaxed and calm these don’t crop up too much, but when I am stressed or anxious my conditioning can take over without me even noticing.
So in order to have a better chance of a productive outcome during those first three minutes of a conflict discussion, practice noticing how you are feeling outside of those conflict moments. Let your feelings inform you about your state of mind so you can better able to recognize the warnings signals of stress, anxiety, and faulty logic. With this greater sensitivity and awareness, you will be better able to consciously choose how to take care of yourself and your relationship.
Sometimes just noticing your emotional activation will be enough to remind you to settle, and with better awareness of your state of mind, you will be better able to know when you are internally stable enough to have a difficult conversation and when you aren’t. This in itself minimizes conflict.
And sometimes we can still get caught off guard and find ourselves in a heated conversation that isn’t productive, but with greater awareness of the feeling of urgency, this will let you know you are off-balance. You will notice this sooner and be able to course-correct faster. You might let your partner know it would be best to revisit the conversation when you are in a more settled state of mind.
If your partner is angry, this may upset them because they interpret you taking care of yourself as abandoning them. So it is best to talk about how you will take care of yourself when you find yourself emotionally destabilized before you find yourself in a situation of conflict to minimize this misunderstanding. But even if you had done this and your partner has agreed to it in a peaceful state of mind they may forget.
In this situation, remember their upset, just like your upset, is simply a reflection of their state of mind in the moment. They will eventually settle and so will you. Commit to revisiting the conversation within the shortest amount of time you need to stabilize so this isn’t used as an avoidance tactic. A couple of hours is usually plenty of time to settle, and with practice, less time is needed. Sometimes I only need 10 minutes to regain my bearings.
Remember, relationships don’t require you to be perfect. They thrive when you are honest and open. This builds closeness and intimacy. Love is your natural state. You will always come back to it.
If you find yourself in conflict, let your feelings remind you of your state of mind. You will then have enough awareness to choose to take care of yourself and make decisions that don’t escalate the conflict. The better you get at this the better your relationship will be, and according to Gottman’s research, this won’t just change the outcome of one conversation, it has the potential to shift the course of your entire relationship.
Rohini Ross is co-founder of “The Rewilders.” Listen to her podcast, with her partner Angus Ross, Rewilding Love. They believe too many good relationships fall apart because couples give up thinking their relationship problems can’t be solved. In the first season of the Rewilding Love Podcast, Rohini and Angus help a couple on the brink of divorce due to conflict. Angus and Rohini also co-facilitate private couple's intensive retreat programs that rewild relationships back to their natural state of love. Rohini is also the author of the ebook Marriage, and she and Angus are co-founders of The 29-Day Rewilding Experience and The Rewilding Community. You can follow Rohini on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. To learn more about her work and subscribe to her blog visit: TheRewilders.org.