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With my significant other, occasionally emotional conflict arises where one of us feels like their needs aren't being met. Under normal circumstances, one of us could just make an extra effort to validate or support the other.

Recently, a conflict arose where both of us felt hurt by the other and that our emotional needs during the pain were not being met. Furthermore, our needs seemed to be in opposition and attack the other in the sense that my needs and pain seemed to attack her more, and her's seemed to attack me more.

This led to a fairly severe conflict where both of us felt deeply hurt and like we weren't able to get the support we wanted from each other. With smaller issues, it would be easier to put aside our pain and support the relationship, but in this case, the conflict kind of hit deeply held triggers for anxiety that ultimately led to both of us having enough anxiety to cause trouble sleeping/eating and other symptoms.

Although we have made major steps towards resolution by painfully setting aside our pain at great personal cost and making attempts to understand the other and communicate more effectively, I am concerned as to how we deal with such situations. The approach we took seems to have caused unnecessary pain. I have thought about ways to approach such conflicts, such as having each person write down what they are feeling and then share the written statement, but nothing seems to be a super sound way to avoid causing further damage.

What is a better way to approach a resolution to such problems?

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    Without knowing exactly what you do it's going to be hard to be able to suggest better approaches to resolving relationship problems. – sphennings Mar 28 '18 at 20:42
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The best way to approach this is to speak honestly and frankly about HOW YOU FEEL

BUT....

avoid the word "YOU" and the phrases "you made me feel" or "when you"

I'm feeling hurt right now

or

I fell like my concerns aren't being addressed

This is a skill that takes some practice to develop, but it avoids accusations, which just lead to bitter arguments.

Also, take turns and let each person speak without putting in counter points. This again is difficult, but worth it. It builds the skill of active listening, especially if you restate the point the person is making.

So, if I understand what you're saying, you feel that you're not being listened to?

Then LISTEN TO EACH OTHER

Listen not to make a counter point, not to make a response, but to HEAR what the other person is saying.

Taking these steps will prevent a war of "whataboutisms".

YEAH? Well what about the time YOU.....

Deescalate, and listen.

most of all, talk frequently and try to address things before they grow to the point where they are being addressed in anger.

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What is a better way to approach a resolution to such problems?

Honestly, setting aside your immediate, emotional reactions in order to communicate more efficiently sounds like a step in the right direction. I will try to explain why, and clarify some points in achieving a positive method for dealing with conflict in your relationship.

Firstly, the way you used to deal with conflicts mirrors that of competitive conflict escalation, where the focus of the conflict is on an opposing opinion, each person wanting to 'win' the conflict, so the argument goes back and forth between aggressor and defender, escalating, getting emotional and as it gets more intense people tend to bring up old baggage or try to emotionally punish the other in an effort to win the conflict. Your description of "emotional", "pain" and the back and forth of "attacking" each other seems to accurately reflect this model.

Competitive escalation is a very destructive and unhealthy way of dealing with conflict, and trying to change your relationship's conflict cycle is great, just watch you don't over compensate when achieving the solution. Looking at your described attempt "setting aside our pain at great personal cost and making attempts to understand the other and communicate more effectively", there are a few things to note. Becoming intensely emotional is a sure fire way to escalate the conflict in an unhelpful way. However, that does not mean that you have to completely set aside your feelings. Instead, I would try to remain calm and explain those feelings rather than bottling them up, or letting them control the conversation. Completely setting aside your feelings, is similar to the "avoidance" conflict cycle, which is also not ideal as it can result in a build up and excess of unresolved issues, which eventually increases overall tension rather than helping it.

I think that the middle ground you are looking for is to: Remain calm, listen, keep your viewpoints open and adaptable, focus on the mutual goal when dealing with a conflict rather than your opposing differences and stop any finger pointing/competitive conflict escalation behaviours as early as possible.

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