Managing conflict in Relationships

Managing emotional conflict

In relationships, it’s easy to notice the perceived flaws in our partners and think if only they would change all would be well. However, the only person we can change is ourselves. When conflict occurs instead of blaming the other ask yourself “What did I contribute to this, and how can I assist to de-escalate the conflict and build relationship?”

What is an emotional trigger?

Emotional triggers are intense emotional reactions usually based in past experiences. When something looks, acts, feels, and sounds similar our brains make assumptions and react as if it is the same.

Due to the way emotional memories are stored, when something arises in the present that reminds you of a past event, you may feel the feelings associated with the past event. We call the present-day events triggers because they trigger the emotions associated with the past. We have a hurt part that is defended by a protector part often this is the behaviour seen in times of conflict. Often couples have well entrenched patterns, assumptions and behaviours that reoccur frequently during conflicts.

Common situations or events that trigger intense emotions include:

  • rejection

  • betrayal

  • unjust treatment

  • challenged beliefs

  • helplessness or loss of control

  • being excluded or ignored

  • disapproval or criticism

  • feeling unwanted or unneeded

  • feeling smothered or too needed

  • feeling insecure

  • loss of independence

How to recognise a trigger?

The reaction can be sudden and stir up intense emotions that can change the mood or pace. It feels big and looks bigger in response to the trigger and can feel out of proportion or make no-sense. However, as our brains like to join the dots and make sense of the situation. So, something occurs, you react, and then your brain instantly concocts a reason for your reaction that seems to justify your behaviour. Leading to blaming the other; you did this and you made me feel X Y or Z because of A, B or C.

How work with strong emotions and conflict

  1. Be aware of when a strong emotional trigger is occurring

  2. Be curious about your own inner reactions and learn about your triggers.

  3. Pay attention to your inner voice, and meaning you are making of the experience.

  4. Although this current stimulus may have similarities to a previous experience, it is different.

  5. Rein in the desire to blame the other or defend yourself self-righteously.

  6. Take ownership of the emotional reaction and name the emotional reaction you’re experiencing – fear, anger, hurt, or shame.

  7. Observe the feeling and take time to calm the nervous system. Be compassionate towards yourself, and/or your partner when you observe a strong reaction. You may need to take time out.

  8. Pause if necessary and take a break when you realise the communication isn’t helpful. Physically leaving can help you avoid emotional overwhelm. If you can, excuse yourself to take a short break. This can help you avoid an instinctive reaction you might regret later. A break isn’t to avoid the issue so comit to return to the discussion later when you both feel more settled.

  9. Take control over your contribution to the dynamic. Use an I statement. When I hear/see/notice (name the specific behaviour in the other) I feel (name the emotion). Then formulate a request. Remeber a true request is open to the repsonse from the other whereas a demand cannot tolerate no!

  10. Listen to understand the other rather than to respond in defence or counter argue. Seek to understand each other’s worlds and look for oppertunities to work together and collaborate



Making Progress

As we learn to take charge and understand the internal workings of our emotional reactions, we can extend this compassionate, curious attitude to our partner. When we take a gentler, more honest, open, respectful, and vulnerable approach to ourselves and our partner, we are more likely to get the same response in return. Here are signs that you’re making progress:

  1. You’ll recognize your emotional triggers more easily and therefore be less likely to project or accuse the other.

  2. You’ll practice taking responsibility and blame the other less.

  3. Become better at caring for yourself and soothing your emotional reaction.

  4. You’ll notice a gradual reduction in your triggers, and less reactive intensity

  5. You’ll experience less conflict and more collaboration


Why talk to a professional?

Emotion regulation is a difficult skill to master for most people, and it’s not always easy to identify triggers on your own. A therapist can help you practice using more productive communication strategies to express yourself and offer guidance and support as you work towards a more satisfying relationship.


Seeking professional guidance to invest in your relationship will help with:

  • Improved ways to communicate • Increased understanding and appreciation of each other • Build relationship skills • Find problem solving strategies • Discover ways to reconnect

Making time to work on your relationships, is an investment in your future happiness. Why wait until it’s too late? Speak to Heather about improving your relationship on Ph: 0405 821 880. In person sessions in line with current health advice or video telehealth consultations available at 10% discount. BOOK HERE


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