This is what real life looks like in my relationships – all of them: romantic, family, friends, everyone. It goes a little something like this: We don’t agree. I can feel both of us slowly putting on our debate hats. Tension + frustration is building. We’re both triggered + not hearing each other + we’re shutting down. Now what?
There are real ways to actually push past frustration and reconnect if both people are willing. Doesn’t mean it’s easy. Doesn’t mean we always want to. Doesn’t mean it’s a “magic answer.” But if your heart is to actually have deeper connection in your relationships + grow in the process, these steps are WORTH the discomfort we feel at first or in the moment.
Press in, though. It’ll take practice because it’s NOT NATURAL to push past our feelings– doesn’t mean we shouldn’t. If you’re genuinely trying, you’re already ahead of the game + moving towards richer relationships. That’s the goal.
6 TIPS for putting connection above conflict + real ways to get through it.
1. Don’t listen to RESPOND. Listen to LISTEN.
This is hard to say the least. From the moment someone says something I severely disagree with, I’m not thinking, “What an insightful perspective you have. Please tell me more.”
No. I can naturally think, “RIGHT THERE. Stop. You’re wrong. Allow me to TELL you how wrong you are.” and if I’m not aware, I can tune out anything they say after that spike of offense because I’m already convinced it’s illegitimate.
That is NOT correct. I repeat: DON’T do that.
Whatever they are feeling– that is their truth. Regardless of how wrong/right you think they are, what they are explaining is THEIR experience + why they are feeling pain. Isn’t their pain what you want to understand? Isn’t that what matters to you? If it’s not, maybe this is where you need to reevaluate why you are discussing the topic of disagreement in the first place. Once you decide you care about their pain MORE than your SIDE, then we’re cookin.
Then, actively focus on only listening without forming a response– & this will not be natural at first. When I ONLY listen, I find that even the response I was planning to say isn’t what I actually want to say by the end of listening. Most times, being open to what they’re saying keeps my heart open to a more reasonable, understanding, and sensitive response that is meeting them in their pain and not one that is focused on defending myself.
2. Ask about their history.
We all have very different backgrounds of
- how we grew up
- what our families looked and felt like
- people we’ve dated
- SO many varying impressions of what love and healthy (or unhealthy) relationships look like.
This is why we have to be considerate of how someone’s history could be affecting their present.
Unconsciously, we drag our past experiences into our present interactions and therefore have very REAL and triggering pain points. When you’re feeling conflict + disagreement with someone, consider that a past experience could be playing a huge role in what they’re currently feeling + how they’re expressing themselves.
Try to remove yourself and make it a little less personal + Ask honest questions:
- “Hey, is this a hard subject for you?”
- “Did you have a bad experience with this area in the past?”
- “Can you tell me more about why this is topic is so significant to you so I can understand where you’re coming from better?”
Those questions are coming from a place of wanting to understand their pain + journey opposed to wanting to war against it. After understanding is established, you may find that connection comes much more easily, even if it still doesn’t result in agreement.
3. Is this a pain point / trigger for them? We all have different “codebooks.”
Once the questions from number 2 are asked, you can dive further into discovering each other’s “codebooks” : the personal meanings they have developed + assigned to certain words or expereinces.
You could be saying one word that means nothing to you, but has SO MUCH meaning to them, and possibly a negative meaning. When people hit pain points, they are going to react from that pain if they aren’t actively choosing not to — which is normal! But ask them. See if there is something specific about the topic or what you’re discussing that is causing them pain.
CARE about their pain instead of FIGHTING to get rid of it. It could come down to something as simple as a triggering word.
You: “Hey, does ___ cause you pain or is there something I’ve said that feels hard to talk about?”
Them: “You said ___. Growing up, that was said every time I made a mistake.”
OH. We just discovered the root of why this is so hard for them. Now we can get somewhere.
4. Does your emotional level match the conflict’s significance?
Too many times than I want to admit, I’ve been in the thick of a disagreement and realized my level of reaction is not matching what my logical brain knows is happening.
For example: I’ve bawled crying because of a cancelled coffee date.
My HEAD knew that crying about missing a cup of joe made no sense. But my HEART begged to differ. To my heart, it was more than sitting at a dingy coffee shop — it was a chance to spend a morning chatting, connecting, laughing, and recreating memories from when we first starting dating each other.
Once I realize WHY my emotions are at that really high-stakes level, I can stop screaming, “YOU CANCELLED OUR COFFEE DATE!” and start explaining, “Hey, I was really looking forward to connecting with you like old times because I’ve been missing that. Can we reschedule so we can still have that time together?”
Now I’m creating connection by allowing the other person to see WHY I’m hurting + what I’m feeling + what I need, rather than shouting, “YOU RUINED EVERYTHING!” That doesn’t let them into my inner world and gives no room for them to meet me. Make room for the other person to understand you.
5. Can you come back to it later?
*This is not a pass to AVOID. Use this tip responsibly. Don’t abuse it.*
If the significance of the matter is low enough to allow this, it might be best. Honestly, it’s not my first reaction because I don’t like letting things “sit”, but I have to remember that not everyone is built like me. I’m learning this slowly, but really trying.
Some people do better after letting the tension come down a little and readdressing it later. Let the pressure release some so you can think more clearly. It’s hard for me to follow this wisdom in the moment, but if you take the time to cool down and breathe, an hour-long discussion could maybe be resolved in 15 minutes with a clear mind.
It’s worth a shot. You could possibly save both of you a lot of stress + headache if you just put the pride aside and give it a rest for a few hours.
6. Will this matter in a year? Five years? After this moment…?
During a season of life when I was experiencing a great deal of stress, I heard a piece of advice that stuck with me. It puts whatever is weighing on you in a better perspective. Ask yourself: “Will this (discussion, disagreement, bill, job, fill in the blank) matter in five years?”
If not, DO NOT let it steal from you. If you won’t even remember it (and most of the time we won’t), it should not rob you of your peace. It doesn’t affect you in the long-run so don’t let it now. You have to decide that connection is more important to you than fighting this thing to the death, especially when it won’t even matter later on!
If it WILL matter, well, all the more reason to learn how to connect if that really is your top priority. You just have to know 1. how to pick your battles, 2. when to let something go, and 3. when connection is what matters.