Sometimes we need a little conflict to create awareness, but just remember to be respectful and view the other person with understanding and appreciation. Resolution is at the end of a loving process, not a fear based one". - Leticia Rae
We often say to each other that it's easier to be mindful when life's circumstances make it easy to do so and that the real test for mindfulness is when things are volatile, unpredictable, complex, chaotic, and ambiguous like in a conflict.
While conflict isn't a very common occurrence in our relationship, we acknowledge that we still have a lot of room to grow because we still sometimes run into impasses, fall into critique/judgment, or stonewall each other. We always bounce back, but the point is to be better from the get go.
Therefore, we decided to find a way to make space for gratitude and appreciation, even in the middle of conflict. Why? Because gratitude and appreciation lead to resolution by opening doors for empathy, understanding, compromise, affection, apologies, acceptance, and even mutual laughter.
We figured it'd be a good investment to improve our ability to communicate through the eyes of love even during conflict and we hope you'll find some inspiration from our experience.
But first, a gentle yet important disclaimer: When we're talking about conflict we're talking about the whole spectrum of common non-abusive forms of conflict: from occasional light passive aggression to chronic arguments. Abuse is outside the scope of this article. If you think you're experiencing abuse, please reach out to emergency services or to a qualified professional for assistance.
Research on Couples and Conflict
When it comes to romantic relationships, The Gottman Institute stated that "the difference between happy and unhappy couples is the balance between positive and negative interactions during conflict." Specifically, for every negative expression during a conflict or disagreement (a frown, criticism, contempt, put-down, expression of defensiveness), there needs to be at least five positive ones (genuine smiles, laughter, expressions of empathy, appreciation and gratitude).
5:1 is a hefty goal and it goes without saying that this goal is only realistic if we work on a strong foundation of respect.
A Simple Approach
Notwithstanding the importance of building a strong foundation for your relationship, we wanted to share an additional practice to help you get unstuck when negative expressions are at play.
A friend inspired us with an idea. It involves creating "positive affirmation" jars for each other. The process is for each partner to write things that they appreciate about one another on a piece of paper that then goes into their partner's jar.
For example: "I really enjoy your long hugs", "you look super cute when you are waking up in the morning", "when you are teaching Karate, it makes you ultra sexy", etc. We suggest you do this any time you've had a loving thought about your partner, whether you've expressed it or not.
At first, this practice wasn't meant to directly help us navigate our conflicts. It started off as a relationship building tool to amplify the gratitude and appreciation for each other.
However, it's purpose evolved during a disagreement we had about which physical therapists Lindsey needed to go see for an injury (I know, right?!). We hit an impasse during the disagreement and Lindsey had the idea that we should read the positive affirmations in the jar aloud to each other to see if it could help us become more grounded. We're glad that we went along with the experiment!
What we discovered is that the quick break from the argument and dose of happy hormones that came from reading what we appreciated about one another helped us remember that there is plenty of goodness in each other (even though we had been upset even a few seconds prior).
In our experience, it's made listening to each other become more important than being right... it's helped put our egos in the back seat, rather than the driver's seat. Reading the messages does something in our minds to help us work through the impasse more mindfully.
If you start your positive affirmation jars today, by the time your next conflict occurs, you should each have a few positive affirmations waiting to be read.
Gratitude Jar Set Up
Have a jar or box for each of you, sticky notes or paper, pens, and a few positive messages to begin wtih
Agree on a signal to pause your next disagreement if either of you feel you are reaching an impasse or falling into negative/unproductive expressions of conflict
If/when an impasse occurs during conflict, use your agreed upon signal and pause your discussion
Reach into your jar or box for one or two messages with an open mind
Read a few notes out loud with an open heart
Appreciate that your partner appreciates you even if you're currently experiencing a temporary disagreement
Return the favour by doing your best to be assertive yet gentle/respectful while working through your differences
This approach has helped us communicate our needs through the eyes of love and reconcile our differences more gracefully.
Remembering to express appreciation in conflict isn't second nature to most. Therefore, the jars are helpful because they serve as external memory tools to remind us to do so. From there, looking at the notes during or immediately following a disagreement reminds us to care about maintaining closeness despite our temporary disagreement. n other words, this simple exercise allows us to practice Relationship Zen in between our interactions and even during more difficult ones.
Bonus: When it comes to the notes in the jar, you don't have to limit their use to conflicts. You can read them when you miss your partner, when things are tough, when you need to smile, when you're having a bad day, or even when you're feeling curious. Whenever you'd like, simply reach into your jar and take-in the positive affirmations! We hope you enjoy the process as much as we have! Shout outs to our friend Michelle for the inspiration!
Do you have a similar practice that you use to diffuse overly tense discussions? Let us know on our Facebook Group or on Social - we'd love to hear!
“When you say something really unkind, when you do something in retaliation your anger increases. You make the other person suffer, and he will try hard to say or to do something back to get relief from his suffering. That is how conflict escalates.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh, Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames