Stop the Stress of Conflict

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Wouldn’t you like to stop the stress of conflict and reconnect with your loved one?

 Does the discomfort of the conflict turn into uncertainty about the status of the relationship? Then you must be aware that all that stress and anxiety clogs up the communication channels preventing transparency about how the relationship is faring from moment to moment. It’s an awful place when neither of you know what the other is thinking or feeling and so you jump to the worst case scenario, adding even more stress to an already charged situation.

You are left holding your breath with anxiety about how things will turn out and what the long term damage will be to the nature of your connection. Why wait helplessly to find out how long the crack in the relationship will last or who if anyone should make the move to repair it? There is a much easier way to reestablish the connection you had before the conflict that can make you feel calmer, closer and more secure in the blink of an eye as Bridget and Patrick’s experience shows.

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Bridget and Patrick squabbled every day.

Whether it was about the jobs they had to do during their morning routines or about how burdened each of them felt as they did things for one another that went unnoticed and unappreciated. They were in a constant state of stress as they navigated their way through the raw and hurtful back and forth of their sparring.

Bridget was on high alert for any criticism, ready to pounce and attack in order to defend herself. She was on overdrive ready to dodge any look, sound or gesture from Patrick that she deemed a poison arrow. Patrick tried to pretend he didn’t care about the constant rifts in their relationships by busying himself with jobs and taking care of things that really didn’t need attention. But inside he was a bag of nerves, stressed to the limit, with shallow breathing, pulse racing and knotted muscles that hurt like crazy.

Remarks they made to one another were fraught with tension as to what might get stirred up.

Would Patrick lose his cool and explode making Bridget wish she’d kept her mouth shut?

Would Bridget avoid all physical contact and punish Patrick for the stress he was putting her through.

What if they couldn’t talk normally again?

What if they forgot how to communicate and feel soft with one another?

What if the love died? Or had it already died given the frequency of their conflicts?

After one of their most heated spats, Bridget and Patrick didn’t speak for a week.

It was the worst week of their lives. Bridget found every excuse not to be alone with Patrick just to get relief from the tension. But the stress of not knowing how things would work out remained, and wore her out. Patrick worked as many hours as he could both in the office and in the gym. He got rid of some of his stress with exercise but the stress of being out in the cold with Bridget made him feel lonely and unloved. He started to think of separating. He had visions of finding another partner even though he loved Bridget and wanted things to work out.

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Bridget and Patrick had reached a danger point that many couples face.

By making the right choice at this critical point, Bridget and Patrick can save their relationship and enjoy their time together. So let’s see what research tells us about the best way of coming down from a conflict that stimulates closeness and quality interactions.

Research conducted with couples in conflict at the University of Kansas reported in 2012, found that some couples came down from their conflict much quicker and more easily than others. The couples who reconnected in a positive way showed marked changes in their stress levels as measured by the hormone cortisol. During and immediately after the conflict, cortisol levels were high. After the couples used a simple connecting device the levels of cortisol dropped to low pre-conflict levels, making them both feel that the relationship was good and strong. These successful coupes indicated that they felt closer and were more satisfied with their relationship despite the conflict.

Another group of couples showed the same level of high cortisol during and immediately after the conflict. But the levels remained high for an extended period of time. In other words their stress levels remained high indefinitely. These continuously stressed couples felt more estranged from each other, and had less relationship satisfaction.

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So what was the simple connecting device that the successful couples used to lower their stress levels and feel close again?

The answer involved using happy memories of times passed. Recalling romantic moments including funny but poignant experiences helped reduce the fear and threat levels that the conflict set up. Memories of good times that involved closeness acted instantly on the brain to stop producing cortisol since there was no longer a need to fight. Couples using intimate and happy memories came down from the conflict together and stayed that way for longer periods than those who just rode it out or stayed angry with one another.

Good memories are a natural antidote to stress as they trigger feelings of safety and security among couples who are experiencing a breech in their relationship. Try it out and feel the instant success of reconnection, that also gives you hope about the relationship so you continue to invest in it.

Copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.

You might also like:

Four ways to reconnect when your partner snubs you

Why nine out of ten apologies fail to improve relationships

How to turn a volatile conflictual marriage into a happy validating union


Disclaimer: this article is for informational and educative purposes only. There is no liability on the part of Dr. Raymond for any reactions you may have while reading the article or implementing the suggestions therein. Interacting with this material does not constitute a therapeutic relationship with Dr. Raymond.