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Repair: What Conflict Can Teach Us About Ourselves

Have you ever made a mistake or had a misunderstanding in your personal or professional life? We all have, and I would argue that all authentic relationships have speedbumps, but to varying degrees. Sometimes that ‘bump’ becomes more pronounced or feels unmanageable without some kind of intervention or form of reconnection and/or repair.

Although this sounds stressful (I feel anxious even writing about it) the act of repairing a relationship can be beneficial not only to the current relationship, but to future relationships. When done correctly, repair can build relational agility (a more positive relational process in the future) so that not only can you strengthen your existing and future relationships, but you can also learn a little more about yourself in the process.

First, ask yourself if this relationship is worth salvaging. If it is a work relationship, then you might not have the option to sever it, but if it is a personal one, you have some choices. If you are unsure that you want to continue a relationship, it’s helpful to ask yourself how you feel before, during and after your interactions with this person.

If you decide that it is best for you to end a relationship, don’t ghost the other person (unless you feel physically or psychologically unsafe). Growing apart is ok, it’s the way that it’s handled that can be hurtful. Ghosting is where someone cuts off all communication without explanation. Although it’s easy, it’s never helpful. The ghoster would rather withdrawal to preserve her version of the story (and justify her behavior), without considering the other person’s feelings nor providing any answers. Often, ghosters follow an avoidant attachment style, as many people like to avoid things that make them uncomfortable. Ghosting shows a lack of courage in the context of a relationship and gives the illusion of a consequence-free strategy, but really reflects poor communications skills. By ignoring a person with whom you were once close, the ghoster creates a power imbalance that leaves the ghostee feeling confused, devalued, insecure, frustrated and hurt, which is supported in the literature as social rejection has been shown to activate actual pain pathways. If you have been ghosted, just remember that the reason for ghosting is a projection of the ghoster and not a reflection of the ghostee, and if this is the way that person handles discomfort or conflict, you may need to reconsider continuing a relationship with her (if this is an option).

Rick Hanson, PhD suggests that the next strategy to employ after a relationship is damaged is to do a ‘fearless and searching inventory’. You might recognize this as one of the steps that those who are in recovery (from alcohol or other addictions) undertake to learn more about themselves and their triggers (more on this later). We often construct armor and show the world our best selves, but where were you at fault and what about this conflict hurts you now? This step forces you to go beneath your self-deceptions and personal narratives and really define both what gets in your way and what helps regarding your relationships. Make a list and write down your triggers, resentments, motives, blind spots and hang-ups. Be brutally honest. This list is for your eyes only.

Triggers are childhood wounds that get unearthed during times of stress. The Holistic Psychologist describes that “when we are triggered, we’re experiencing the past in our present, which is often why we have ‘big’ reactions or reactions that don’t seemingly fit the present experience”. Knowing your triggers (one of mine is feeling devalued) is the first step in healing from them and although they will still emerge when activated, by acknowledging and working with them, we can limit their intensity and duration. It’s important to note that although triggers are not our fault, they are our responsibility and can cause us to react in a way that is unhelpful (maybe even embarrassing) and can exacerbate conflict and contribute to our own obstructive narrative.

Next, consider taking time and space before having a conversation with your aggrieved friend or colleague. When activated, your nervous system requires rest, space, quiet and stillness to heal. Don’t take too long to talk, though, as extended periods of time can lead to resentment and allow the other person to create and embed their own narrative of the conflict that is difficult to penetrate. If you are really angry, conjure up positive memories of the person and realize that the flaw is with how the person is relating, not within the person herself. Also, consider the other person’s point of view. When something goes wrong, we often judge others on the outcome, but judge ourselves on our intention. Once you are ready, have an honest (and maybe difficult) conversation with your friend or colleague. If you, like most people, struggle with this, reframe it as an ‘experiment’. Positioning it this way can temper any emotional charge and allow you to proceed with curiosity as opposed to anxiety or dread. What could she be thinking/feeling? What bothered her most about the interaction? Is this how she acts when she is hurt or angry? It takes courage and self-awareness to tell someone how you really feel and to authentically listen to her point of view. Make sure to validate these feelings by saying something like “It sounds like you are feeling… (hurt/misunderstood, etc.).” This can lead to her developing her own self-awareness and provides a blueprint so that you can consider and avoid the words or actions that created the conflict in future interactions.

Finally, apologize. Make sure that your apology is authentic, and address what you regret about the interaction, what you learned, and what you will do differently (if it happens again). Relationships take patience and work. Dealing with conflict in relationships can be stressful but also provides you with an opportunity to cultivate courage and insight.

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Nest Advisor Monica Moore is a nurse practitioner, health coach, and the founder of Fertile Health, LLC, a consulting company with two distinct, but interrelated, branches that together can optimize the care of infertility patients: training new nurses in reproductive endocrinology and health coach, where she assists women who are waiting to conceive in becoming the healthiest versions of themselves prior to pregnancy.

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