Managing Conflict

AngryCouple

“Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional”

The Nature of Relationship Conflict

Real conflicts in relationships are more than just elements associated with let downs, frustrations, incivility or broached boundaries. They’re deeper and more powerful than arguments and disagreements would at first appear. Relationship conflicts are situations where you or your partner perceive an emotional menace, whether that menace is real or imagined. What’s worse is that they tend to repeat and don’t go away from one relationship to another—that is, these menaces will travel with you into your next relationship and with a new partner. These are highly visceral reactions to situations that rationality will not clear away unless the phantoms that are driving this behavior are identified and addressed. It is important to realize that conflicts more central to issues of attachment and commitment will evoke not only a greater threat response from you or your partner, but are more likely to be the structural fault within your relationship and will be a leading candidate for that relationship failure. That is, unresolved emotional issues have a markedly disproportional negative effect on the health and viability of your relationships and as leaders and managers of our relationships we have a responsibility to lead and manage these.

The Nature of Conflict Avoidance

Much like the real issues driving emotional conflicts, conflict avoidance hides several significant motivators to avoid conflict interactions and serves as a good analogy to the hidden emotional issues behind conflicts. Most people can relate to a very basic element of conflict avoidance just because of the very nature of conflict itself; that it is absorbing, energy-consuming and honestly we want to believe that we have better things to do… but is that truly why we avoid conflict, or are there other issues that are really motivating us from venturing there? Would it be more true to recognize that we may be lacking conflict skills and have had a history of poor utilization of those skills and almost no recognizable ability to manage conflict in a healthy and productive way? Are we too afraid, feel too vulnerable or unsure how to bring to the light of day deeply guarded emotional issues with our partner? Are we honestly too insecure about the nature and true character of our relationship to test it in the crucible of conflict and are afraid to find out the reality of where it stands? Understanding these and any other motivator you may have to avoid conflict will be the first step you take to managing conflict within any relationship.

A Lack of Social Fluency

As children we go through the process of learning and developing a large number of social skills facilitating our interactions with others. One of the most important, but seldom taught or developed is conflict skills. And like all skills, unless as adults we continue to develop, nurture and hone our abilities, we’re slaves to the maturity skill level of our abilities of when we initially learned them, regardless of our actual age. It’s why you’ll see fully grown adults resorting to acting like children, because they honestly have no real ability to do otherwise. Their skill set is limited to that of a child’s. On a fundamental level the ability to hold constructive and healthy conflict sessions is a mark of maturity and one relegated to a fully developed adult. Children need to be taught the critical skills of collaborating with others, restraining anger escalation, rejecting shutting down and emotional withdrawal as a viable conflict management strategy and avoiding or changing destructive behavioral patterns of aggression, to resolve or manage conflict. If as an adult you have not developed those, have positive experience utilizing them and have confidence in your ability to enact these abilities, it’s time you sat down with your inner-child and have a heart-to-heart about developing them.

Emotional Gateway

In an emotional conflict people rarely convey the needs at the heart of the problem; the words being said isn’t what your partner is trying to communicate, the issue being addressed, isn’t really the true issue, as there is often a bigger issue behind a closed emotional door, that contains a very large emotional elephant. If we really listen to our partners, not only in what they are saying to us, but in the patterns of behaviors that bring us back to this same very place, time after time, we may come to realize that they are in fact bringing us to an emotional gateway. We ourselves may not even be aware of how deeply a particular issue from our past affected us, until a situation involving conflict has occurred to uncover it. Partners that don’t trust themselves, have the ability or established an operating pattern and history to discuss pertinent, at-risk issues appropriately will often utilize inappropriate methods to advance an issue into the forefront. They will start a minor conflict to segway the discussion into a larger and more important issue, that they feel inadequate discussing, often called a lead-in. A partner who fears holding a particular discussion due to fears of evoking abandonment issues, relationship flight (you leaving her) or heightened emotional insecurities, may in fact deny the presence of hidden issues, even when directly asked (she may not actually be even aware of it herself). We should be cognizant of this possibility and book mark emotional conflicts, so that if we keep returning to them, we can realize that there truly is something else there, even if our partner is unwilling to openly address it, or the fact we can’t see it. In such a case, finding and knocking on these emotional doors may not be enough. Our partners may continue to deny their existence. In such cases, it is not our responsibility to open those doors, it is our partner’s. If they choose to keep them shut and us out, we can only identify that we were aware, willing and offering a safe environment for them to share with us, but they are ultimately accountable for not doing so. Regrettably these issues tend to be the leading cause for relationship failures, known or otherwise and that is of their making, not ours.

The Crucible- a Test of Character

Emotional conflicts within relationships test the character of the relationship itself and can tell us as much about the relationship, as it does the individuals within the conflict. Just as we can deduce an individual’s social fluency by observing their social skill mastery, we can evaluate a relationship’s strength, health and vibrancy by observing how conflict is handled, regarded and managed within the relationship. Is the conflict not only addressed in a manner which seeks resolution by both partners, but do the partners separate the individual from the issue with tact and respect and do the partners utilize the source of conflict for greater understanding and comprehension of their partner? When done so, conflict can be a tremendous opportunity to lead to deeper respect, trust and intimacy. Conflict tests relationships and individuals more rigorously than other forms of interactions and can be very frightening because of it, but by developing our and our partner’s ability to handle, manage and constructively resolve conflict can we gain honest confidence in our relationship’s true strength and character, by having navigated through it.

Conflict Cost

We must learn to manage conflict because the risks involved in not doing so are very real and very, very costly. Appropriate conflict management prevents physical and psychological aggression within intimate relationships. We are vastly less likely to lash out with physical violence, in releasing engulfed rage and anger that has built up rapidly within a spiraling and unrestrained conflict setting. We are less likely to be physically domineering and physically aggressive, in an attempt to control or manage a situation where our skill sets have failed us. We are less likely to commit emotional and psychological harm in delivering vicious and insidious personal verbal attacks in moments of lost self-regulation. We are less likely to lose relationships that we have invested heavily in emotionally, physically, sexually, socially and financially. Beyond the total sum cost of any failed relationship, the cost of not developing conflict management skills is that this lack of ability will likely be handed down from Father to child. Parents that manage conflict appropriately are less likely to neglect or abuse their children and are more than likely to pass those positive behavior skill sets down to their children. The same hand that guides the Mother will be the same hand that guides his children.

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Managing Unspoken Expectations

Titanic Model

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(A man surveying the results of an iceberg named ‘hypergamy’)

“Expectations that go unspoken do not infer consent.”

 Icebergs of Navigational Routes

Unspoken expectations, conditions, rules and obligations are like icebergs to the navigational routes of our relationships with others. They lurk in the byways rarely seen or noticed, and if so typically at a distance to become a natural part of one’s emotional landscape and an element forming your context for being. We sail past, around and quite often through these emotional berg flows with little consequences to us or our relationships until that frightful day when we strike one. And like icebergs themselves, what is visible to the eye is only a portent to the massive formulations that lies below the surface.

Obligated Servitude

We all have and created expectations for ourselves, our relationships and have projected those onto our partners. We have the natural tendency to expect the significant people in our lives to behave in a manner envisioned and internalized, to include operating in synchronicity with us, with little thought, planning or management, yet we cannot in all honesty and with integrity expect our partners to read our minds, pick up on every nuance of reflective or reactive body language, to read between the lines of what we say or do, or to fully understand and comprehend us, if we do not trust and respect them enough, to share and discuss what ails us or what we expect of them. Failing to do so is unfair, unhealthy and unwarranted and is a lazy, self-absorbed form of passive-aggressiveness behavior, that delegates the responsibility and accountability that is our own to others, without the courtesy or respect of open acknowledgement of those facts. It is a clandestine form of negotiation that sets our partners up for failure, obligation and servitude. These clandestine obligations create an incredible burden of pressure to recognize, understand and anticipate, that leaves even the most astute and capable partner drained, frustrated and ultimately overwhelmed. Ultimately it is a sign that we don’t respect ourselves enough to be willing to openly present, discuss and negotiate with our partners, what we feel, what we believe and what we expect. Sadly any relationship not built on respect, care and understanding is one poorly built and crafted, especially the one we create with ourselves, as that relationship is the one that gets projected to the world and our partners.

Crossed Boundaries

When someone does something that is in deep contrast to the standards, boundaries and beliefs, regarding behavior and consideration, we often feel deeply hurt, betrayed, angry and confused at this display of lack of consideration and care. It is natural and common to withdraw emotionally from the relationship and perceptions of a relationship change when there is a contrast between the ideal and reality. Furthermore resentment builds, as a result of any unspoken breaches of values that goes unaddressed. We naturally resent the transgression and now ourselves for not demonstrating the fortitude to embrace our own truth, with our partner, in an honest and open way and is then compounded with each additional occurrence or remembrance. This is a progression of emotional responses that sets off a chain of reaction, much like a domino cascade that spreads and leads towards the end of the relationship, such as a brush fire leads to devastating forest fires. Instead we should stop keeping the emotional peace of silence and honor ourselves by speaking up and speaking out.

Unrealistic Expectations

When we hold unrealistic expectations of and for our partners, we are in essence not seeing them for who they truly are or the reality of what we are asking of them and needing. It is a form of invalidation when we reject our partners, their efforts and investment in us and our relationships when we hold expectations that they cannot achieve. The greater the degree of disparity between what is expected and what is achieved is just the initial basis of frustration, which is sure to snowball to a larger magnitude of consequence. When unrealistic expectations are systemic and form an institutional element within a relationship, it is a sure sign that the partners are an inappropriate fit for each other, but instead of honestly looking at the true cause of the issue and resolve the relationship appropriately , we cling to our failed choice of a partner and relationship, and seek to control and brutally dominate it into submission, rather than face reality and release our partners appropriately with care, consideration and respect. When we hold unrealistic expectations of our partners, fail to recognize and utilize appropriate methods to resolve the relationship, should we ever be surprised when our partners after so much invalidation, disrespect and inconsideration on our part, choose to resolve the relationship inappropriately instead?

Conflict as a Vehicle of Awareness

Not all unspoken assumptions, expectations, rules governing behavior that sabotage relationships are known. In fact, there tends to be three categories that they fall into; the first is the spoken and conscious, which tend to be boundaries which are culturally held, known and actively expressed to our partners. The second is what is unspoken but known consciously, some of these I’ve just written about. The third is something that is unspoken and consciously unknown to us. It resides within us, without our conscious awareness of it. We simply don’t see it until it is upon us. Even then, like icebergs in the dark, we may not even recognize the entire mass and reality of what is before us, as we respond to the violation or transgression, with unexpected hyper-sensitivity on our part. It is at these moments that we should recognize our own emotional reaction as a signal to stop, look and listen to the source of where these emotions are coming from. Looking into the source of these emotions via psychological self-analysis and relationship autopsy, is an incredible starting point for determining what the underlying issue and concern is. Frequently they don’t reside or originate with our partners or the perceived transgression, but from our own past and development. It is only after consciously acknowledgement, acceptance and be willingness to account for these emotions, that we then progress to sharing them with our partner, utilizing relationship skills of conflict management, in communicating emotional needs, having a critical conversation, and setting boundaries with them. In doing so, we take on the accountability and responsibility of securing our own happiness and creating the life we really want. It is a process that is worth the investment not only for our relationships and partners, but individually for ourselves.

Communication Management

Relationship conversation

“The biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

When lines of communications are not open or are not clear it is common for misunderstanding to become exaggerated and overly hostile, developing distrust, fear and anxiety within the relationship. There’s a certain amount of inertia that then must be overcome to start communication which was already difficult to begin with and issues are then addressed at the damage stage, rather than an informative or awareness stage. We simply don’t start to communicate until damage is actually done and resentment has built to the point where avoidance is no longer an option.

So too when we start to evade issues and topics from our partner, when we speak in half-truths or hold back in being honest, open and sincere, we start to drift into a soft form of dishonesty and are shutting down a channel of communication that is critical for the health and welfare of any relationship.

We need to have more than just an ‘open door’ policy with our partners. We need to have already shown and exhibited a forum and willingness to talk about issues of the day, as well as the operations of our relationships, prior to when we actually have a real issue, problem or challenge to overcome.

Nature of Management

Management is about doing systemized methods of time-tested and proven behaviors repetitively over time to get desired results and maintain relationships. Often they tend to be boring and mundane, until the time that they’re not, which is when they are most needed and become so valuable. Communication management is about insuring that interpersonal coordination and interaction with your partner is taking place to resolve issues, stresses, tensions or challenges that the relationship is currently facing, to make sure that the relationship is working effectively and efficiently.

You need to Lead

As a man, it will be up to you to initiate, lead and to manage this line of communication (amongst several others). While we can recognize and appreciate the fact of gender equity between the sexes and should thus come to expect women to be equal partners in managing the lines of communication, a simple fact of biology remains in opposition to this; Hypergamy… and when social conventions and biology clash, biology surely is to win out (nature always wins). Specifically a woman’s sexual attraction trigger of social dimorphism the behavioral traits associated with masculine behaviors of leadership, assertiveness and assuredness, will prevail over her social conventions and desire to be co-equal partners in managing the relationship. She will expect you to lead and will be naturally attracted to men who do. Do not lose out on establishing and maintaining this critical point of attraction within a relationship.

SHE IS YOUR TEAM!

It is critical of any manager to know and understand their team and staff. Make no bones about it, your partner is your team! Let me say it again; SHE IS YOUR TEAM. If she isn’t, if she isn’t someone you would go into business with, someone you trust to represent you, to speak for the relationship and to conduct the business of your relationship in public, you’ve chosen poorly, very poorly and need to reinvestigate your actions leading up to that decision. If she is, you need to acknowledge and validate that by treating her as though she is an essential asset and part of your life, by making time to hear and understand what is going on with her and her world as it relates to her and that she means more to us than being a life accessory in our lives.

Weekly Staff Meetings

One of the most important things a manager will do during the course of the week is to meet directly with their staff and team conducting the planning, organizing, managing, monitoring and decision-making that is required to run the operations of a business, as well as the personal interactions that makes your team feel connected and informed. As a business manager it is incredibly important to go beyond this and make a direct connection and develop a personal rapport with your team members individually. We have to go beyond the basic awareness of someone’s life, to really having a personal understanding and investment with our staff, before we can expect them to truly have one with us. As such there is an amazing difference between asking a co-worker about their weekend and asking them how specifically how ‘Johnny or Jane’ did in their specific after school activities, or whatever it is that is really important to them. We have to know and relate to what is important to them before they will relate with us. We lead by example.

Weekly One-on-Ones

Relationships are no different, except we get the methodologies backwards… we typically know to spend quality time with our partners, talking, sharing, listening and validating them, but rarely do we take a businesslike approach to the business management portion of our lives and the relationship by planning, organizing, managing, monitoring and making decision that needs to take place within the relationship to run smoothly. It is important that we do so and conduct both, separately. Do not mix one with the other, as it is too easy to mistake one emphasis for the other. Quality time is quality time. Business time is for business. Part of management is knowing when to share, bring up or discuss what, at what times and places. It is for these reasons that I believe it is important to set aside regular time each week to solely have a business relationship one-on-one with your relationship partner.

Reservoir of Goodwill

By holding and conducting regular one-on-ones with your partner you’ll develop a reservoir of goodwill, understanding and sound connection prior to needing it. When it’s needed is no time to start figuring out the dynamics of interpersonal communication nor to foster the good will required to sustain it. If you don’t, you are establishing a relationship culture to managing through crisis and conflict management… that’s poor management on your part and likely to be highly unsuccessful methodology, as most failed relationships will attest.

Present, Tested, Vested

Lines of communication must already be present, tested and vested… Those early established communication efforts are a proven commodity, building trust, respect and confidence in future communication needs and requirements, such as time when we need to give feedback or as importantly when our partners need to express a measure of it. Who would you rather talk to a serious issue about with; a partner you’ve never had a serious discussion with, or one who has been open and receptive to a variety of relationship type discussions over time with you?

Pattern of Behavior

Doing so establishes patterns of behavior… regular one-on-ones develop that pattern, provide that opportunity for communication, and can be relied upon to exist in the near future (because our partners can’t always rely on our powers of perception). Small issues can be discussed early, before they swell up into larger issues, due to neglect, ignorance and the age-old issue that problems tend to multiply if left unaddressed. By holding regular one-on-one our partners know there is an open forum for them to bring a topic up in the very near future, relieving the potential for built up tension, frustrations and anger that will ultimately result in a critical confrontation, one which will likely go very poorly if she doesn’t have the skills to hold a minor confrontation, let alone a critical one.

First Step

Opening lines of communications is also an amazing important first step in de-escalating conflict. Just by establishing communications many misunderstandings can be cleared up, understood, corrected and avoided. Trust and respect can be preserved, which should be the cornerstones of any healthy relationship.

Silent Treatment-Word of Warning

Along those lines couples should never give the other the ‘silent treatment’. This will only hinder and deteriorate the relationship by blatantly showing disrespect and invalidating your partner. In a healthy relationship, partners should be able to come together in good times, and bad… We may be angry, upset, & hurt, but our partner should be our emotional safe place to go to. If not, the relationship is in serious trouble and ill-health.

It Works…

While it may seem obtuse, overly simplistic and incredibly boring to make regular time to sit down to lead and discuss the business management of our romantic lives, it does provide the incredibly important frame-work and forum needed to accomplish our relationship goals, to help it move more smoothly and effectively through the rigors of life. Is she not, is the relationship not, are we not worth having a five-minute discussion to clear the air and to manage the life we want?

IMPULSE CONTROL & SELF-REGULATION

You cannot release tension by creating more of it…

Rationally, we know we cannot expect to live harmoniously with our partner at all times, but seldom do we emotionally accept that fact. Frustrations, unmet expectations, let downs, incivility, broached personal boundaries, poor behavior, brushes with insecurity issues, confrontations with un-resolved emotional developmental tasks can often trigger deep emotional reactions that fuel and give rise to unchecked jealousy and anger. These impulses drive our temptations to act utilizing rash behaviors and short-term decision-making that satisfy our basic instincts of self-preservation and immediate self-interest in releasing pent-up tension by lashing out. In the moment there is nothing more compelling and satisfying than completely releasing your engulfed rage and anger… …and then it is over… the moment and the relationship. You simply cannot have a healthy relationship where trust and respect do not exist, and in that moment of lost control and lack of self-regulation both were highly diminished if not destroyed. Just anger should be displayed in incredibly rare occasions and where it is truly warranted, if ever. Ultimately an angry defensive outburst moves you further, rather than closer together.

Negativity spiral of hostile reciprocation

It doesn’t have to be a flash of uncheck rage or anger that kills your relationship. The ease at which negativity, hostility and resentment builds into conflict, strife and reciprocated negativity is frightening, as it spins into an almost unrecoverable spiral of destructive behaviors, as partners interact in an absorbing state of animosity and hostility that fuels itself causing more harm to trust, respect and mutual admiration along the way… This negative spiral is one of the very real reasons that breaking up is the norm, not the exception in intimate relationships. We simply unwittingly fan the flames of demise without squelching them early when conflict is most manageable.

Pro-relationship action

An important function of promoting and enhancing your relationship is your ability to respond constructively rather than destructively to negative impulse temptations. To prevent damage to your relationship and to your reputation regard anger, frustration, the surge for dominance or aggressive competitive action to be ‘right’ or ‘win’ as a caution sign to alert your to problematic emotional situation. The angrier you feel, the less effective you will be able to solve any problem, as it decreases your ability to think, take in new information, take fresh perspective or to come up with new solutions. This is especially true in any form of group activity where consensus building or collaboration building is essential in pursuit of any shared or common goal.

Stop!

Taking a moment to take in a deep breath and letting the surge of adrenaline and emotions to pass through you, to clear your mind for an instant to think before you speak and to think twice before you act, may be all you need to release the tension and relax the body and mind from the fight or flight mode you’re currently on. It is this interruption that allows you to build awareness and establish self-control, to regulate yourself and to act through your beliefs appropriately. Taking a moment to stop and re-affirm your core values will ease the effects of hasty anger by reminding us why those values are important to us. By recognizing that anger is an emotional caution sign, it will help us focus on our long-term objectives, rather than short-term gratification and avoid our natural hazardous responses.

Look!

In the moment of pausing look into not only the situation, but what you really want. Take perspective. How you want to be regarded. Where you want the relationship to take you. How do you value the relationship. Who do you want to be. What are your values and are you acting through those. Focus on your behavior (the only thing you can control) and not of your partner’s is essential. Empowering yourself instead of attempting to control others or the situation is a key component of overcoming anger tendencies. Control what you can- you.

Listen!

Listen to your partner. Not just in what she is saying, not just in what she is doing, but listen for what may be driving those words and actions. Utilize your powers of perception to try to understand what are her needs, wants and feelings of expectations that are unresolved or unmet? What is she emotionally aching for that she cannot reach? Before we speak, before we act, be very careful not to invalidate your partner, as once we have the opportunity for any productive discussion or problem-solving is all but gone.

Listen deeper!

Listen deeper still. Listen to deep within yourself and ask yourself why you’re responding negatively rather than positively to a potentially destructive partner’s behavior? It most likely will underscore unresolved emotional or developmental tasks for yourself well beyond the initiating event. Mentally bookmark this emotional reaction response and investigate it by performing a psychological self-analysis by looking at emotional patterns of behavior, as well as perform a relationship autopsy of those relationships that surround those feelings. Frequently strong emotional responses are unconscious and subliminal signals that unresolved dependency needs and developmental tasks are unresolved and will hinder the health and wellbeing of not only your relationship, but for you as well.

Ego-depletion

Self-control is not the whole story in regulating impulse control. Stress, general frustration, exhaustion, poor nutrition, lack of sleep and competing simultaneous demands will affect will-power and self-control reserves of anyone. It is important to recognize that your self-regulatory strength may be limited. As it is depletable. As it is renewable. Even someone who is committed to his or her relationship may fail at self-regulating due to self-regulating strength depletion despite their motivation.

Self-monitoring

It is highly beneficial if we can self-monitor not only ourselves, but the circumstances and environment in which we are party to for signs that we may be taxed, fatigued or worn down and act to counter it. In many instances we can foresee and anticipate that in an up and coming situation we may reach a similar point, and instead of just ‘sucking it up and driving on’ we can actually pre-plan rejuvenating and energy replenishing actions strategically. Whether this is getting extra sleep and rest, eating properly, treating yourself well, taking a moment to pause and reflect, exercising, sharing a good meal with friends or having sex lavishly (even if it’s just with yourself) can all have a remarkable effect on your ability to express gratitude in life and confer an enormous happiness advantage in general.

 

Providing Validation

Providing validation image

Love is validated in the memories of the past…

 

“I see, I hear, I get”

Emotions heal and anger is soothed when they are heard and validated. So too are the people and the relationship they’re in. Validating is about “not only do I hear what you’re saying, but I get it, I get you.” You are in essence saying to your partner “I see you, I hear you and you and our relationship together have meaning to me.”

Beware the extremes

Communication is an emotional event, especially when emotional needs or personal boundaries are at stake. It is at these times that relationships can come to an inflection point in value and how they are perceived by our partners. While at these points are polar extremes, validating our partner on a regular and continuous basis is at the heart of any intimate relationship.

Even when we disagree

Even when we disagree, validation provides a way for us to communicate the common ground between us. Providing emotional validation shows the speaker that we’re not only accept them, but they are safe and secure in expressing themselves and their thoughts and ideas free of ridicule or disdain.

It’s about leadership

As a man we’re culturally taught not only to provide but to also protect, typically from an external threat, but what happens when the threat and injuries are internal, that originates from within the relationship and by us? When our actions indicate blaming, judging, denying and minimizing our partner’s emotions, we are invalidating not only their emotions, but them as well. These actions leave psychic and emotional wounds which leave our partners feeling rejected, ignored or judged. What does it say about a man’s leadership ability when he makes his partner feel this way on a continuous basis? Should he be surprised when she seeks out comfort, security and acceptance from another man in the casual sex quadrant of life? Do you really think it will stay casual for long? Are we not aware of hypergamy by now?

Relationship cancer

Invalidation disrupts relationships, creates emotional distance and alienation with our partners. It is a drain on the emotional bank account we have established, and one that typically fuels a relationship’s demise. Combine invalidation with a negative feedback loop and the relationship is in a certain death spiral.

‘Knowledge-Doing’ gap

While this knowledge is mostly likely very common, what isn’t is acting on the actual behavior traits of validating our partners on a continual basis. It’s what’s known as the ‘Knowledge-Doing’ gap. We may know something, but there is a big gap in habitual behaviors which are destructive to our relationships.

When listening is an investment

Most people stop listening when they think they already know what the other person is going to say. Other times they stop listening when they’ve gotten the information they wanted, but that’s not why your partner is talking to you… Active listening is when you’re able to accurately repeat in your own words what it is that your partner is conveying or trying to. If you’re not sure, you ask clarifying questions to seek their intent. Validating goes beyond active listening and combines developing empathy and emotional support skills in recognizing that your time, energy and focus attention sends the very real message that your partner is important to you, and what they are saying is important to you, as a consequence. When you listen to build and reinforce a relationship, you’re investing in the relationship and your partner. That’s the validation we’re talking about.

Striking a balance

However there’s a balance to be struck between empowerment the ability to change your state of being, including your feelings and behavior and emotional validation. Men tend to focus on too much empowerment and women tend to stay in emotional validation too long, which inhibits progress in both cases. If you don’t validate sufficiently, your partner will resist your efforts at assistance. If you validate too much, your partner will begin to identify with their issue or symptom (victimhood mentality). Emotional validation without empowerment is ineffectual pity and empowerment without emotional validation leaves your partner feeling that you don’t get them.

 

Providing Feedback

“Without feedback you’re operating in a vacuum”

We live in a world and age of constant feedback, most of it subtle, others not so much. We recognize intuitively, if not rationally, that there is a direct correlation between performance and structured feedback, yet in an area as critical in our lives, such as an intimate relationship, we tend to provide little leadership and guidance to our partners, until a boundary has been breached. A strong, healthy relationship will be one in which both parties are able to grow and develop within a safe, secure and trusting environment. That growth and development will be fostered in part under an observance and guidance of well-meaning and appropriate feedback, geared towards removing conflict and improving the relationship bond.

Checking your relationship altitude

To perverse goodwill and not risk alienating our partner, structured feedback should only occur if there is truly a constructive purpose for it and you have a surplus reserve of emotional goodwill in supply. (There is a major difference between providing your partner feedback and becoming her parent.) You should be well versed in the 4:1 praise-criticism ratio where this is the baseline between respondents stating that they feel “OK” in their relationships and not being “OK”. Going below this ratio level and we are at risk of alienating our partner and ultimately bankrupting the relationship. This simple form of social diplomacy should be a basic guide and indicator of how much emotional reserve is available and potentially how well received your feedback will be, prior to deciding to initiate any structured feedback with your partner. If need be, build your relationship and partner up prior to putting any additional pressures on them or the relationship. Note: this does not mean metering our praise like a ‘yes, ladder’ just prior to going for your ‘sale’ of providing feedback.

A.S.A.R.

Providing feedback in real-time may not be to everyone’s, nor the relationship’s best interests or option. Even though any incident or concern may be fresh in everyone’s mind, discretion is the better part of valor. Rather than focus on a general policy of ASAP in addressing an issue, a better and more appropriate approach of ‘As Soon As Reasonably Ready’ (ASAR) should be considered. This gives you enough time to collect your thoughts, prepare them and to initiate the discussion in a calm and reasonable manner, aka ‘like a man’.

Value Follows Energy

How you approach a critical conversation, how you initiate it, the tone and attitude of your words and the nature of your body language matters more than what you say to your partner. The first few seconds of the interaction sets the tone for everything that follows, whether your partner feels under attack or is being guided and received by a loving and caring hand. It is important to remember that value follows energy. Where is your emotional state when addressing your partner? Is it loving? Is it controlling? Is it angry? Is it upset? Is it condescending? Learning to control the emotional state of the conversation will do more for helping to direct the consequences of your conversation, than your words ever will.

A Spoon Full of Sugar

Un-prepare content is rarely palatable. In conveying your thoughts make sure to infuse and express appreciation for your partner. Doing so not only takes off the rough edges of the topic but adds fuel and incentive for initiating change. It is also important to express concern regarding the nature of relationship, as this discussion is about avoiding breaching potential boundaries or failed expectations, which will have a much greater damaging effect to the relationship if left un-addressed. You must be sincere in this regard. It communicates that you care and have respect for your partner. Without it you’re unlikely to foster and empower change.

The Power of “I”

Before launching into the specifics of your concerns it is vital that you place it in context. This is about how you feel. This is about what you have observed. This is what you are noticing. These concerns are about your perceptions. Make sure your partner understands that, by addressing your concerns with “I” statements. Once you have done so, then you are free to address your specific concern, while focusing on the behavior or actions in question. It is important to never make this about your partner, but upon specific behavior or issues. No where during this is it appropriate to bring in snarky comments, sarcasm or character attacks. Lead the relationship by example.

Channel Dr. Phil

Having just communicated the issue of concern, but before actually making your request for change, elicit your partner’s input into the situation. What’s driving the behavior? Why do they feel it’s appropriate? Are they aware of how this makes you feel? In conducting any emotional needs communication it is important to be honest about your own needs, while at the same time validating your partner’s, by providing respect in understanding them by applying the techniques of active listening, prior to soliciting change or proffering specific suggestions of alternative behaviors and collaboration in doing so.

The Cornerstone

Only after your partner has been heard, understood and re-affirmed are you truly free to make room for change. Having done so, frequently people will fail to verify acceptance or understanding back from their partner in exchange. Confirming that your partner hears, understand and recognizes the importance of what you have expressed, after-all, is the cornerstone of the entire conversation. Check their understanding not only of the issue at hand, but their commitment and agreement to amending the issue.

Bring it together

In going through the conflict management points of determining the context, setting the tone, taking perspective and discussing emotions it is vital to resolve any emotional needs communication with re-affirming your belief in your partner as a person and the value you hold for the relationship in general. We started this process with an understanding of the hazardous half-minute, end with the same sensitivity, caring, affection and appreciation.