Stay tuned for this critical relationship advice series.
Today we will explore in more dept the most common relationship conflicts and how to solve them.
In my last few videos and podcasts I talked about attachment and how it can cause conflict in your relationship.
It often starts when we reach out but either feel or anticipate that our emotional needs will not be met, that they don’t care or that they simply will not engage with us.
Attachment is critical to our survival and is a response hard wired into us through millions of years of evolution.
We feel safe when we know our care givers will respond to our needs as our very survival depends on it.
While we have grown up and are adults and our key attachment is now our partner then the fundamental needs are the same.
When we feel we might lose that attachment we respond with blame, criticism, attack which is a strategy used to get an emotional response, any emotional response, so we know our partner still cares enough to Engage.
You can see the attacks or blame as protest behaviour.
It’s also a natural fight response when stress is triggered, as it would be when we fear losing an attachment.
The other typical response pattern to attachment fears is to do the opposite to attacking, to escape by withdrawal.
This way we protect ourselves from the rejection of not having our needs meet and the pain that entails.
It’s also a helpless state as we have given up even trying.
This is much more dangerous than the protest behaviour described above.
The blame and distant cycle however reinforce the fears of abandonment, as blame will make the other defend or retreat which creates more emotional distance and feeling of abandonment.
The cycle then repeats itself.
What your partner is really trying to ask you when they attack or blame you is:
Can I reach you?
Are you available when I need you?
When they try to control you, they are really saying:
I need to know you will not leave me or hurt me.
It’s a clear sign that their need is to feel secure with you.
If you experience this protest behaviour, find out what their attachment language is so you can show them how much you care and that you are there for them. (discussed more in my later podcasts and videos)
Don’t try to argue with whatever logic reason they are attacking your for, it’s just a cover-up for some underlying attachment fear.
Addressing the problem in a logical way will likely have zero positive effect and only create less closeness.
Until the underlying emotional need is met it will only continue.
My partner once got angry with me after I mentioned I could not attend her friend’s birthday party with her.
I realised instantly that her anger was not about the party and if I could come or not, it was that she felt I did not want to integrate more in her life, as I previously had not been able to attend a wedding, she invited me for.
This made her concerned about my commitment and if I really cared and wanted to be part of her life.
I had a similar experience as she had turned down some invited.
Recognising this I said to her
“is it not absurd that we get upset with each other when what we really are trying to say is that we care so much about each other that we want the other to be a bigger part of our lives.”
She said yes instantly as I had recognised the unfulfilled attachment need below the surface conflict.
I joined her friend’s birthday party to follow up my verbal commitment with action and we had a chance to be clearer about our needs.
Conflict was gone before it had even really started and it all lasted 3 minutes.
Men often get stuck arguing about the logic of what their partner brings up as men have been raised to use logical far more than their emotional circuit.
Address the emotional need and it’s solved.
Remember the key attachment questions that arise when there is conflict is:
Will you be there when I need you?
You can answer this question by being there for your partner when needed, and if you have not done so in the past you can do it from today.
The key individualisation question that arise when there is conflict is: (more about individual needs in a podcast and video)
Do you care about/accept my needs or boundaries?
They want to know that you recognise their needs and accept them or are willing to work on your fear if you can’t accept them.
The one who is objecting or trying to inhibit the other is often reaching a boundary.
They need to know you will respect their boundary and support them if they decide to try to work on those fears.
As mentioned in the last podcast the 3 common negative cycles people get caught in when their attachment is damaged are:
This is where both parties attack each other and is triggered by the fear response that only gives us 3 options: to fight, flee or freeze.
The fight/fight cycle normally doesn’t last that long before one person withdraws and stops engaging.
Fighting, blaming or attacking is a sign of your partner trying to reach out to get a response and to see that you still care.
It also means they still care about you that’s why they are desperate for a response.
If they did not care about you, they would simply disengage and have no emotional response at all.
So as strange as it may sound, the fact that your partner is blaming or attacking you means you are important to them and that their attachment needs are not fulfilled. They are scared.
It’s not an effective strategy but the best they can do when their fear response is triggered.
If you can spot what’s going on you don’t have to respond by also engaging in the blame game. You can break this cycle.
This is when one person is proactively blaming or attacking the other partner in a desperate attempt to get attention and get their attachment needs meet.
They are often unaware of their attachment needs and therefore can’t express them and therefore simply lash out.
This often makes the other withdraw in defence and the hope that the attack will stop. This is the escape fear response.
However, this only triggers more attacks as withdrawal means attachment needs are even more neglected and your partner fears even more that you are leaving them or don’t care.
So, the negative cycle continues often until relationship breakdown or complete disconnect unless an intervention takes place.
If you tend to withdraw, notice when you are feeling overwhelmed and communicate that whilst addressing their attachment needs.
You could say “I am feeling overwhelmed when you attack me so I can’t hear what you actually need and I really want to hear what you need so I can be there for you. It would be great if you can explain to me what you need.”
This is often the final stage where both partners have given up at getting their attachment needs met.
This is the most dangerous cycle because it means both partners have given up and no longer have enough energy to invest at getting attachment back.
The person that used to attack is feeling helpless and are grieving and has let go of hope.
In the end, the couple start to anticipate needs will not be meet and so they attack or withdraw before anything even happened and don’t give the positive outcome a chance and so they are stuck in a cycle of disconnect.
This cycle often needs professional help to be solved and sometimes it’s already too late at this stage.
Therefore, I am a big advocate of prevention over treatment.
I hope you enjoyed this and see you soon.