‘I don’t want to talk about it!’ Ever uttered these words to your partner or heard them from him?
There’s been a disagreement, a conflict of some sort, either big or small and feeling hurt, angry, confused or unloved you or your partner shut down – and either you or he has uttered these words or something similar.
‘I’m over it! I don’t want to talk about it’. And in all probability one of you has stormed out of the room or sat down in an uncomfortable silence until one or both of you moved to another room or became absorbed in another activity. What remains is a steely silence. A silence that leaves an icy cold feeling or atmosphere not only in the room but between you…
No Communication Means the Connection is Broken
And do you recall how long that icy distance between you lingered? Was it hours? Or days…? Or perhaps on occasion… weeks? Do you recall how tentatively one of you attempted to get things back to normal – perhaps by bringing the subject up again or was the issues typically pushed aside as if the conflict or argument had never arisen…?
Either way this is not a good practice or means for a relationship to survive, let alone thrive and sparkle. .. Relationships that fail to develop solid and effective communication strategies are at risk of drifting apart or worse… set up ‘no go zones’ where issues or topics of conversation are avoided at the risk of a conflict arising.
And that’s how relationships start to drift apart…when solid communication practices and means of constructively dealing with conflict have not been agreed to or practiced. When icy silences or avoidances replace meaningful communication the connection in the relationship is broken. And worse…when the connection is broken real intimacy is threatened.
When you and your partner don’t deal with conflict constructively… or one of you refuses to listen to the other’s point of view an impasse occurs. And that impasse results in a flood of negative feelings to arise –such as hurt, anger and frustration…. And accompanying those negative feelings are thoughts that undermine feelings of self-worth and the like. And left unattended over a period of time you begin to question your value as an individual as well as your worth in the relationship.
While the incident or conflict itself might in fact be quite small, when left unchecked the aftermath of the incident is emotionally and physiologically massive. And very detrimental to the health of the relationship…
So it’s important to learn solid communication skills and agree to resolve conflicts and disagreements speedily and effortlessly. Conflicts and disagreements are not uncommon in solid relationships. Learning how to deal with them as soon as they arise and using effective communication strategies to resolve the issues easily and non-judgementally are key to the relationship being able to navigate the disagreements in a healthy fashion and continue to grow in a deep and loving manner.
Fight and Flight
Did you know that when either you or your partner utters those seven words – ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ – You or your partner is effectively shutting down the connection between the two of you? And while those seven words may seem insignificant the effect of them is not. Nor is their impact gone when the sound of the words has faded and silence fills the void.
When you feel the need to shut down there is a corresponding physical response. On a physiological level your primitive brain kicks into action. Feeling hurt or angry your primitive brain perceives the situation as one of danger and so goes into what is termed a defence mode. It does this as a means of protecting you. …In that state your brain releases two key hormones, cortisol and adrenaline into your blood stream to assist you in being ready to shield yourself form further attacks.
Ever wondered why in these situations you’ll often feel like calling a girlfriend? Recent research by Psychologist, Shelley Taylor, PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles suggests that women fall back into their nurturing role in these situations so seek companionship. Shelly coined this the tend-and-befriend- response.
Men typically have their own unique way of dealing with these situation as well….your partner also ‘closes down’ … In these instances it is not uncommon for him to ‘run away’ to another room or to leave the house as a means of coping with the situation….or become quite aggressive in his behaviour.
‘So while men favor being aggressive’ or avoid the situation ‘running away, women are more likely to try to diffuse the situation and seek out social support.’ Dr Joohyung Lee
So while there are some common reactions as to how men and women deal with the ‘hurting’ or anger in situations of stress and conflict women are more likely to adopt a less aggressive or externally focused set of behaviours than men.
The latest research suggests that men have a gene not present in women. It’s been termed the SRY gene, and it’s believed that this gene ‘impacts men’s hearts and brains during times of stress, causing blood pressure to rise and encouraging an aggressive fight-or-flight response’
Either way the conflict causes a relationship disconnect far deeper and more impactful than the initial conflict or disagreement, a disconnect, that is quietly undermining the relationship at a deeper and more meaningful…and less conscious level.
So How Do You Regain the Intimacy and Connection?
If dealing with conflict naturally results in men and women going in different directions… How do you counter this and deal with the conflicts and disagreements that arise with your partner easily and effortlessly?
The first step is to appreciate what the natural patterns or behaviours in dealing with conflict are – A flood of stress hormones flooding the body resulting in men wanting to shut down, run away or flee… And you feeling helpless and unsafe, wanting to understand, so seek comfort with a friend or family member. A seemingly less aggressive response but none the less disconnecting you from your relationship…
And here’s the worst of this situation… For you as a woman when your partner returns or is prepared again to engage in conversation with you his system has reset. Yours has not… What do I mean by this? His testosterone levels have returned to normal and he can compartmentalise the issue. To him it’s part sorted.
However this is not the case for you! Having been in a situation of conflict or of feeling unheard – you still feel unsafe. The role the stress hormones play is to keep you on alert and to protect you. In essence they serve to keep you from letting your guard down or connecting with your partner… These hormones disrupt the feelings of connection and intimacy making it far more challenging for you to connect with your partner on a physical or intimate level…
And that irrespective of how much you might feel that you love your partner nature’s predetermined plan to keep you safe. That in situations of stress to keep you on high alert. The result is that one small or seemingly small argument or disagreement can take days or even weeks to resolve itself and in the meantime the relationship is under threat, and the intimacy threatened. The relationship has essentially become a land mine to navigate…
Make a Pact and Become Proactive
My suggestion to couples is to develop an agreement together as to how you are going to deal with conflicts or disagreements up front… before they happen…that is to develop a strategy as to ways to deal with disagreements – without fuses being ignited.
Agree on ways to sit down together to talk about the issues…quietly…openly and respectively.
And on the odd occasion when issues don’t seem to be resolved easily or a compromise seems more challenging…Put a time limit on how long the discussion goes for. At the end of that time if no resolve has been reached…Agree to meet again later to discuss it…with a strong commitment to come to a resolve.
Once a resolve has been reached or agreed to…RESPECT it. No lingering over the issues.
Should the moment be too heated to sit down quietly…agree up front to a period of time out…an hour or 2 of thinking or cooling off time- and then commit to meeting to talk quietly about the issue.
Agree that no matter how hurt or angry each of you feel that there will be NO negative language adopted…No abuse…No name calling or sarcasm…This is extremely important. Remember at all times to respect one another. This is not a time to assassinate one another… it’s a time to reconnect, not sever the relationship and undermine its integrity.
Successful Relationships Consist of One Conversation at a Time
And as I wrote in a recent article, remember successful relationships, are a result of one successful or meaningful, heartfelt conversation at a time. That’s how relationships are formed and not doing so or respecting this is how relationships are broken.
How do you respond to stress? What positive strategies have you put in place to resolve issues easily and effortlessly? Please share your experiences below.