The holiday season may be the most wonderful time of year for many, but that’s not often the case when it comes to relationships. It is very normal for couples to have an increase in relational distress under holiday stress. From excessive spending to drama with the in-laws and clashing traditions, the intense emotions surrounding the season put a lot of stress on even the most secure relationships.
There are dozens of articles and blog postings offering relationship advice on how to avoid holiday fighting. This is not one of them. Why avoid something that is a natural part of close relationships?
Every relationship has conflict. It can even be good for a relationship. It can help you get to know yourself and your partner better and deepen your connection. But when we don’t have tools, it can quickly escalate.
Instead of giving tips on how to avoid conflict, let’s dive into how to recognize your emotions. Your feelings, attachment style, and patterns all play a vital role in relationship conflict. Avoiding a fight during a high-stress time (like the holidays), rather than leaning in, will likely lead to resentment and frustration in your relationship.
The Roadmap to Deeper Connection
At Heartswell, we work with our clients to learn conflict resolution through Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT). EFT is an attachment-based therapy model that is used to improve communication and bonding in adult relationships. There are three stages of EFT.
- Deescalation – During this stage, the primary goal is to identify issues of concern and negative patterns. The partners work to recognize why they feel the way they do, their behavioral patterns, and discuss this with their partner. This is the best time to assess the emotional cycle and identify triggers.
- Restructuring – At this stage, partners voice their attachment needs and learn to show acceptance and understanding for each other. This step is critical to helping partners be more responsive to the needs of their significant other. It is also an important step to reduce a couple’s conflict because the partner learns to listen, accept, and respond with compassion.
- Consolidation – The final stage is when couples create new approaches to maintaining an intimate connection. They are able to see and understand how new patterns can be developed to create a secure bond.
When EFT conversations are integrated, arguments are seen as a result of an underlying emotion such as feeling alone or unwanted. Seeing disagreements through this lens helps us out of default patterns of attack, blame, and defensiveness. Imagine a moment where your emotions are ramping up and you are able to say, “I’m really struggling.” And your partner is able to say, “I see you, I hear you, and I honor your experience.” While it rarely goes as smoothly as that, when we focus our energy on understanding the underlying emotions, we can find our way towards connection.
Accept, Hear, See
When a partner can learn to accept, hear, and see the sharing partner – while having awareness of their own triggers – they also learn to take a step back and get curious when conflict arises. Depending on how intense the emotions are for the sharing partner, it can take time to trust the process and get out of the negative cycle. This often requires a great deal of give and take when both partners’ emotions are triggered. Couples need to learn to create some balance between who begins. During a heated moment, it can be difficult to decide who goes first. With practice and patience couples can learn to become a team against the cycle, rather than each other.
As we approach the holidays, conflict will occur. Perhaps this holiday season you can use the inevitable tension as an opportunity to observe your own patterns of emotion and how they interact with your partner’s. The more curious and aware you become with yourself and your partner, the more you’ll be able to change these patterns. With time, you will be more available for deeper connection with the one you love.
Contact us to learn more about EFT therapy and conflict resolution. You can schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation on our contact page to learn which of Heartswell’s offerings is best suited to support you in your journey to emotional freedom.