Arguments in a relationship are not unhealthy. In fact they are a wonderful way to purify the relationship and develop greater levels of harmony. However, we’ve all been in that argument. The one that starts out with something small and when we try to resolve it, the anger and aggression we feel as well as the conflict itself just starts building and building and building until it has turned from a small flame to a forest fire… A forest fire that can and sometimes does destroy the relationship itself.
Some people are natural de-escalators. These are usually the people pleasers of the spectrum. People who hate conflict and would do anything to get out from underneath the heat and pressure, even if it means giving up their own sense of self and personal integrity. If you are this kind of person, I encourage you to watch my video titled: “How To Overcome The Fear Of Conflict”.
Some of us on the other hand are not natural de-escalators. In stead we tend to escalate. It is as if we have no capacity to put the breaks on in a conflict. Consciously, we do not want to destroy the relationship. But it is as if once we become threatened enough, we lose control of an aspect of ourselves that decides it is out for blood, no holds barred.
If you struggle with conflict escalation, you can be sure that you did not have any healthy modeling of conflict resolution in your childhood. You never learned how to keep a fight from escalating.
If you are this kind of person, the first thing you have to own up to is that you struggle in life to feel safe, especially in relationships. You are naturally distrusting and so it takes very little for you to feel as if someone else is not going to capitalize on your own best interests. When someone is not going to capitalize on your own best interests, they are not safe to you; they are a threat to you. You perceive them as the enemy and you treat them as such. If you know this is you, when this video is over, I want you to watch my video on YouTube titled: “Trust, (What Is Trust and How To Build It In Relationships”.
Now we come to the most important point in this video. We need to admit that if we feel a resistance de-escalating a conflict (including to all the techniques listen below) we need to meditate about why we do not actually want to de-escalate a conflict. This involves two things: What positive things are we getting out of a fight? And what bad things would happen if we took responsibility for de-escalating a fight in any way we can? We have to be brutally honest with ourselves when we ask these questions. If we discover what we are really afraid of about de-escalating instead of escalating, we have the opportunity to address our escalation issue at the core. When we feel triggered by the idea of de-escalating, we can go into the feeling of that trigger and use the completion process with it by asking “When was the first time I felt this exact same feeling?” or “When was the first time I learned that it isn’t safe to be soft and open so that I could make a situation better?” You can learn the completion process in my book titled: The Completion Process. Chances are high that if you have an aversion to conflict resolution, the relationships you had in your early life between your family members were full of unhealthy control dynamics.
So, aside from that, what can you do if you are an escalator in a relationship? More than that what are some healthy ways to de-escalate and resolve an argument once it has started?
1. 99% of the time, when there is escalation in an argument it is because there is a huge gap in understanding and communication between the parties involved. They are on a different page and often are not even arguing about the same thing. Often if they are not conscious enough, even the parties themselves don’t understand what the real conflict is about. Think of it like being on two different continents. Usually the frustration and rage of being so far apart and thus unable to communicate so as to find resolution causes them to become louder and louder until they are screaming and slamming doors.
I will give you an example of what I mean. Let’s say that two people are trying to agree on whom to hire to be part of a company. As they express their desires and concerns, the issue just keeps escalating and escalating. Soon, nothing one of them says makes the other feel better. In fact everything they say makes the situation worse. We may come to find that while one person is arguing about whom to hire, the other is actually arguing about the feeling that the other person doesn’t have enough concern for his or her needs in general. This is a classic dynamic between men and women. We have to become aware of the CORE of the argument for both people. And if need be, we need to hire a mediator or therapist who knows how to get down to the core issue for each person. For more about this, you can watch my video on YouTube called “Get On The Same Page”.
If you are an escalator, in the middle of the argument, ask yourself, “What am I REALLY upset about in this situation?”. “What is my fear underneath the surface of this argument?” “Is the fight about what it appears to be about or about something deeper?” That then needs to be communicated. Also, get clear about each person’s goal of the conversation or argument. If you can stay focused on the goal, it is easier to resolve conflict without getting sidetracked.
2. Make a conscious commitment to staying as calm as possible. This may sound odd and sometimes it is not possible. But often times, we are not actually committed to staying calm and that is why we don’t practice it in the moment of conflict. An intention can go a long way if we are committed to it. Begin breathing so your body is fully oxygenated and consciously focus on the words coming out of your mouth so that they can be as deliberate as possible. Whatever you do, do not suppress. When you feel the rage rising in your ribs and chest and neck, direct your attention inside to that feeling and imagine bringing a pink light around that feeling so as to take care of it and hold it and protect it.
3. No matter what you have heard, unless you are dealing with 2 very rare people who are both actually soothed by alone time, the worst thing you can do in an argument is to go take some space or a timeout for yourselves. This is actually an abusive move called withdrawal. It is perceived as abandonment in a time of relationship insecurity. It is like adding fuel to the fire.
4. Since safety is the biggest issue in the moment of escalation for the escalator, you as the escalator (or both if both are escalators) need to ask yourself, “What would make me feel more safe right here and now?” Perhaps the answer is that you need to cocoon in a blanket. Or perhaps the answer is that you need some warm water. Meet those safety needs and your nervous system will naturally come out of arousal. I offer an arsenal of suggestions for this in my video titled: Upset, What To Do When You’re Upset.
Often times, our upset needs to have some in-depth attention before any conversation about the actual argument at hand can continue. This is 100% the case if we are so shut down that we resist our partner’s touch and fly into a rage if they try to introduce humor into the situation. The bottom line is if we have crossed a line of un-safety and threat then we have to directly deal with that first and not the details of the specific argument we started off fighting about.
5. The minute you feel yourself switch into a cycle of defensiveness and you feel yourself start to close down like armor is coming down over you, this argument is headed into the danger zone. This means put the brakes on. The best strategy is for both people to stop where they are, not leave the room
(so as to avoid triggering abandonment trauma) and close their eyes as if in meditation. Both people have to get clear on the core of their fear about this situation as well as get into the other person’s perspective and try to perceive the other person’s fear. This has to be agreed upon in a relationship as the strategy that is going to be used if escalation occurs. Then, get out a writing pad or computer and each person has to separately write out their insights they got from going inside like that. You can either continue to write or type back and forth to each other after each person reads what the other has written. Or if you trust yourselves to continue with de-escalating the conflict, continue verbal discourse around the issue.
6. Make yourself non-threatening to the other person in any way you can. For example, touch each other. Physical touch is a master unifier in relationships. It creates a softening. Body language is also super important. Keep your body open to the other person and not closed. Keep eye contact with them. Make your body movements soft and non-threatening.
7. If we can, we have to introduce humor into the situation. Humor also brings about a softening and makes the situation less serious.
8. We need to figure out what the other person is desperately crying out for. What do they need? And we need to try to give it to them or figure out a win-win scenario for both of us. We have to begin to acknowledge emotions and learn how to deal with negative emotion if someone is really upset. To learn how to do this, watch my video on YouTube titled: The Emotional Wake Up Call.
9. If you can, switch into a mode where you are actively trying to listen deeply and compassionately so that you can fully understand the other person with intent to learn why he or she is so upset. Ask genuinely caring questions to understand why they are so upset. This open and compassionate stance is an energy that disarms the defense and calms the fire.
10. Take responsibility for your role in the fight. Apologize. Apology is an instant de-escalator in a fight. It is like pouring water on fire. Apology is not easy for people who are perfectionists or for people who distrust other people because it is willing openness and acknowledgement of mistake.
11. Avoid triggers instead of using them. It is essential with people to learn them so that we can become aware of their triggers. Triggers are sore spots in your partner. This is the opposite approach from deliberately pushing someone’s buttons. If you want to de-escalate, avoid these triggers like the plague. For example, if weight is a sore spot for your partner, do not bring it up during an argument.
12. We need to have some skills for resolving conflict. When conflict arises, we are being called to embody greater depths of intimacy and harmony. We are being called to become as aware as possible of ourselves relative to a subject. We can either answer that call or allow the conflict to drag us into deeper levels of unconsciousness. We can seek a meeting of minds or we can become reactive and try to end the conflict through power struggle. For information about specific techniques to use for conflict resolution, Watch my YouTube video titled: “How To Resolve Conflict”.
De-escalating conflicts is not as hard as you would think, provided that your actual goal is to find resolution and harmony instead of to win or to control the other person, which is tempting when we feel unsafe. But try these solutions the next time a fight begins to escalate instead of letting a flame turn into a forest fire.