Language is easily weaponized in conflict. Despite good intentions to improve a relationship, it becomes easier to set landmines with our words and approach loved ones as adversaries to be defeated.
But when differences of opinion lead to hurt feelings, we still have the power to clear the battlefield and reinstitute a desire to be seen as allies and not foes.
The following are 7 landmines often present in conflict discussions and how you can start removing them to create a calm emotional field and improve your relationship.
Landmine #1: Not knowing what you want
Many people lead with their emotions in conversations without knowing what it is they’re actually hoping to accomplish in talking to the other person.
Be clear ahead of time about what you want. If you don’t know, take a moment and reflect on your priorities.
Are you looking for:
- Empathy and support?
- Help solving a problem?
- Wanting to vent?
- Wanting to assert a boundary?
- Getting a need met?
Once you know, think about how you will need to show up to the conversation to increase your chances of getting what you want. This will help improve your relationship.
If you’re not clear with yourself about what you want, then you can’t reasonably expect the other person to know what you want and be able to give it to you.
Landmine #2: Pushing for conversation before the other person is ready
The harder you lean in and push for a conversation before the other person is mentally and emotionally ready, the harder they’ll lean out to avoid your intensity.
For the pursuer…
The pressure to pursue another person to talk about something often comes from difficulty managing one’s own emotions, such as:
We then try to get the object of those feelings to see them, validate them, and “fix” them for us by addressing the particular topic of discussion.
If the other person fails to do this, anger often emerges to keep a protective distance from further hurt and invalidation of our emotional needs, while still pushing for engagement in the hopes of a different response.
The conversation then becomes less about the topic you think you’re discussing and more about seeking connection and emotion regulation.
Lowering the emotional intensity often creates more space for the other person to move in.
For the withdrawer…
Someone who is not ready to have a conversation may be trying to say the following:
- I’m at my emotional limit and am more likely to respond poorly
- I want to give you my full attention and right now I can’t do that
- I don’t know how to give you what you want right now and I need some time
On the other hand, perpetual avoidance of conversations has the potential to become a pattern of passive-aggressive punishment by not giving someone what they need.
If you postpone a conversation, you are responsible for re-engaging in a timely manner.
This gives the pursuer a reason to want to give you a break because they trust that you’ll come back.
Landmine #3: Being right
Arguing over the details of “what really happened” is adversarial and will not improve your relationship.
It’s a power move that invalidates the other person’s perceptions, shuts them out, and doesn’t accept influence. The unspoken message is that “unless you see things my way, your way of thinking, feeling, and acting is wrong.”
It disrespects your partner’s individuality and personal experiences by implying that “we’re going to solve our differences by not having any differences, because I can’t tolerate you having a different perception of things than me.”
You can’t force agreement. And you can’t force someone to see things your way.
Instead, you must accept that there are two valid realities to be respected and explored together based on personality differences, learned behavior in your families, role expectations, cultural messages, and old wounds and insecurities.
Speak for yourself and your experiences only, not your partner’s.
“This is what I felt. This is what I heard,” NOT “You did this and you did that.”
This will improve your relationship by allowing the listener to keep their different experience while also exploring yours.
Landmine #4: Criticism and blame
It’s hard to move closer to the other person when you’re in your trench tossing grenades at them. Criticizing and blaming your partner is offending from this defensive position.
- Don’t go into trend (you always…/you never…)
- Don’t go into character (you are a…)
This communicates that on the fundamental level of your character you are not equals. One of you is somehow better, more righteous, and more powerful than the other.
There’s no intimacy and trust here, only fights for dominance.
You don’t make somebody more accountable and empathetic by hurting them.
Landmine #5: Going on too long
Give the other person the benefit of best being able to give you what you want by making the message concise and easy to receive.
This means staying very particular in your conversation. It’s this one incident that you’re dealing with, not the five that happened before.
Challenge yourself with the experiment of addressing an issue in three sentences or less:
- I feel…(emotion)…about…(this one situation)…
- My perspective / What I heard/saw/did was…
- It would be helpful if…(positive request for change)
Obviously, longer conversations are needed on many subjects to repair deep emotional rifts. But these conversations will go better if you practice brevity on the smaller things.
Landmine #6: Ignoring emotional triggers
If you don’t know what sets your partner off, and you haven’t been clear about what sets you off and why, then you’re walking around in this minefield together blindfolded.
Start revealing the dangerous spots in the landscape to each other, providing information on what will set it off and how you’ll react to protect yourself from the blast if it is set off.
Improve your relationship by working together to create safety rather than continuing combat by exploring the following:
What your triggers are (things I see/hear/feel/remember) and how you react to them:
“When I feel ignored, I become more likely to push for conversation.”
Where these triggers and coping strategies come from:
“I always had to push to be included by other kids at school, otherwise I’d be left out of events.”
How your reactions may hit your partner’s emotional triggers:
“When I push for more conversation around a particular topic, that hits your sensitivity around not being able to say no to something, and round and round we go…”
Recognizing these old scripts that you keep acting out with your partner is important for understanding each other better and being be better equipped to negotiate solutions to problems.
Landmine #7: Demanding compliance
Demanding your partner to do anything is a losing strategy.
You can bully your way to get your way, but that’s winning the battle and losing the war.
Your partner may agree to your demand and give in to stop the fight, but they will resent you for it and your relationship will suffer.
“You need to stop spending so much money!”
Instead, focus on clearly stating what you need within the relationship using an inventory like this one.
Then let the other person know why that need is important to you and a tangible example of how they can work toward fulfilling it.
“It’s really important to me to have a sense of financial stability. I’d like for us to plan some time to look over our budget together.”
It’s better for the quality of your relationship to secure cooperation than to demand submission.
But they still have the freedom to say no.
In which case, you have the opportunity to explore this, compromise, or decide what to do with a relationship that doesn’t meet your core needs. In any case, it moves you out of the pattern of coercion.
Disclaimer: I am a licensed therapist, but I might not be your therapist and this article does not create a therapist-client relationship. This article contains mental health material for informational use only and should not be seen as therapeutic advice. You should consult with a therapist or other appropriate professional before you rely on this information. I reserve the right to change the information contained within this blog at any time and am not liable for any damages that may result from its use.