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  • Writer's pictureHenriette Johnsen

How to effectively navigate disagreements, conflicts, and crises in your romantic relationship?

Many, if not most, couples experience disagreements, conflicts, and crises at some stage of their relationship. 

These can break trust, harm communication, and take couples apart - as an expat couple and/or multicultural couple, you may be more vulnerable to such as living in a foreign country and/or not sharing the same cultural foundation as your partner come with a whole host of challenges that place greater demands on couples when caught up in the rat race of modern day life.

When disagreements, conflicts, and crises hit, it can be difficult and challenging to find your way back to a trusting and loving place, so what can you do to enhance your chances of overcoming these situations?

Emotional safety

In a well-functioning relationship, you feel safe and can trust that your partner is there for you, regardless. When that trust is broken, and emotional contact declines and is replaced by an emotional void between you and your loved one, you begin to feel unsafe.

When in conflict, many find it difficult to feel love, affection, and care for each other. However, if these weren't present, whatever the cause of the crisis, it wouldn't be a crisis. A disagreement, a conflict, a crisis only matters as you care about each other. It's a sign that something is off kilter and needs fixing in a relation that matters.

In such situations, it's important to have a basic foundation of trust as well as good, respectful, and caring communication to draw on to re-establish emotional safety and to repair any damage done to the relationship.

The sooner such conversation happens, the better. If not, there's a risk that each of you begin to create your own version of events and of what your partner thinks and feels - this might be far from the truth and can cause emotional havoc between a couple.

The role of attachment style

How we attach to other people, and in particular in romantic relationships, is founded in our early years. If you are securely attached, you trust that the world is inherently a safe place, that you are good enough, that it's safe to express yourself emotionally, and that people in your life are willing to support and show up for you in times of hardship.

If you, on the other hand, are insecurely attached, you lack that inherent trust; and from a young age, you will have developed strategies to cope with feeling alone, scared, and emotionally unsupported. Strategies that you may not necessarily be aware of - and strategies that often don't work in your adult relationships.

Some will become emotionally distant, prefer to be on their own when emotionally triggered, and will go to great length to avoid getting into conflicts or situations where they might feel criticised - as such, they will withdraw from conflicts and other emotionally challenging situations.

Others will develop a pursuing nature where they will seek contact to their partner at all cost and at all times. They will do anything to feel emotionally close with their parther. They find it difficult to emotionally self-regulate; and if in a relationship with a more withdrawn person, it becomes cause for further conflict when their partner withdraws to emotionally regulate themselves.

Insecure relational patterns can cause further disturbances in a couple - in particular if unsafety is amplified by partners not feeling heard, seen, and understood. Therefore, it's of paramount importance to have regular check-ins and talk about each person's perceived sense of emotional safety and the emotional state of the relationship.

How to build and repair relational bridges?

A succesful, safe, trusting, and loving relationship is not about not having conflicts, it's more about how you repair any damage done between the two of you. Here are some pointers to take into consideration for you and your partner:

  • Mutual respect and understanding, overt reinforcement of positives in a partner and a relationship, alignment of expectations, and a willingness to not bring old stuff into a current conflict are all key in establishing and reparing relational bonds where rupture or damage has occured.

  • It's important that each partner is willing to take responsibility, that no contempt, stone-walling, manipulation or gaslighting take place, and that you are able to refrain from using condescending, hurtful, retaliating, humiliating, and derogatory remarks. When you are triggered and have less access to your cognition, you don't want to say something that can cause further damage to the relationship - remember, when you fight to win, the relationship loses.

  • Remember to share the small stuff as well as the big stuff. Don't allow things to fester, but also pick your conflicts carefully. Do so, in a respectful, non-blaming way - and refrain from thinking that you know how your partner thinks and feels, that you know their motivations and intentions. Allow them space to express these - and open your heart to trusting the truth in these, even when this differs from your own perception: after all, it is your partner's truth!

  • Be respectful of boundaries - unless you disrespect these, your partner's boundaries are not an expression of how they feel about you, but about themselves and what they can give in a relationship. When boundaries are respected, often, a person is able to rest, trust and give more in a relationship.

  • Research within Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples shows that couples who are able to engage in physical intimacy whilst going through conflicts or crises often find it easier to rebond and reestablish trust and love. This is no about make-up sex or overstepping boundaries; it's about being able to connect in different ways - it's still important to talk through and repair the damage.

  • Let your partner know that you love them - you both need to be reassured of your mutual love in times of crisis.

  • Give proper apologies where appropriate:

    • Take responsibility for the hurt that you may have caused, be it physical or emotional.

    • Acknowledge what it is that you have done or said - be specific.

    • Explain why you understand that it was hurtful/wrong.

    • Don't make excuses - these will undermine everything else in an apology.

    • Don't hide behind your intention not to hurt your partner - in most cases, no one sets out to intentionally hurt their partner, but hiding behind this isn't taking responsibility. It may be perceived as a get-out-of-jail-for-free-card and as such, won't repair the damage. It's fine to express your intentions, but remember that it should be followed by a pure apology - and not the other way around: what is said last is always what sticks, so intentions before apology!

    • Ask how you can make amends.

    • Refrain from promising that you won't ever do so again if there's the slightest risk that you may. This will only undermine trust if you find yourself doing/saying so again. If you do promise not to do/say something again, make it clear that it's for the benefit of your partner and your relationship - it will also be for the benefit for yourself, but that shouldn't be the prime cause as it undermines your partner's position and trust in you.

  • Finally, if you can't seem to rebond, reestablish trust, or keep having the same conflicts and crises again and again, it may be time for empathic, professional support. You are welcome to contact me for a 25 minutes, free, non-binding consultation to hear how I can help you - click here to find my contact details




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