Effective Ways to Reduce Conflict While You Stay at Home with Your Loved Ones: Part Two
Around the globe, as COVID cases and deaths spike, many communities that were re-opening, are now re-closing. For many of us, that means yet MORE time sheltering at home with loved ones.
How about you?
Are you at home with your partner? Your children? Other family members? Maybe a close friend or two?
How is that going?
If you are experiencing some tension in your connections, you aren’t alone. The added emotional, logistical and economic stress of the pandemic is taking a toll on just about everyone. Not only that, spending more time together can surface conflicts that might have otherwise stayed buried.
It can feel safer to say nothing when you feel hurt or angry. After all, things might spin out of control and erupt into a big argument or lead to the silent treatment from the very person you rely upon for emotional support. Most of us know how painful both of those scenarios are, and we do our best to avoid them. But simply keeping your mouth shut and doing your best to hide your true feelings can actually increase tension in your body and in the home.
The good news, though, is that there are ways to speak your truth AND reduce tension, avoid conflict and enjoy each other more.
How do you do that? How do you speak your truth without alienating those you care about?
To help you do that, I want to equip you with four very simple tools for creating peaceful and loving interactions.
How do you speak your truth without alienating those you care about?
This is Part Two of a four part series. In Part One I showed you How to Take Timeouts that Really Work. In this installment, I will share with you a fun game for increasing empathy and deescalating disagreements and potential conflict.
As a reminder, here are the topics I am covering in this four-part series:
1. How to Take Timeouts that Really Work
2. How to Increase Empathy for Yourself and Your Loved Ones
3. How to Assert Boundaries that Create More Connection
4. How to Achieve Partnership When You Disagree
Before I show you how to play the empathy game, let’s talk about empathy.
What does empathy mean to you?
While experts don’t always agree, for our purposes, I am going to make a distinction between sympathy and empathy. Why?
Because relationships do better when we can move away from sympathy and toward empathy.
Let me explain.
If I feel “sorry” for you, some part of me might actually envision myself superior to you. Sure, I could be motivated to help you. But the problem with sympathy is it can feel condescending or patronizing. How might you feel about my help if you detected my pity?
On the other hand, if I empathize with you, I actually imagine how I would feel if I were in your shoes. I might even feel your distress in my body. Rather than pity you, I relate to your pain. I am in it with you.
Unlike sympathy, empathy can work wonders in relationships. If you feel your loved one’s empathy, you will feel safer to share what is true for you. And if you experience empathy for your loved one, you are less likely to judge them and more likely to understand and appreciate their feelings. When empathy is present, we can build heart connections that help us weather the storms of life.
Unlike sympathy, empathy can work wonders in relationships.
Here then is a fun game that can increase empathy between you and those you love. My partner and I play it all the time and we call it Show Me Your Movie!
Okay, let’s Play Show Me Your Movie!
- In this game, Forget the “Facts!” ONLY Feelings Matter
Intelligent and well-meaning people disagree all the time. We each have our own viewpoints, and thus we each see things uniquely. And yet, most of us sometimes make the mistake of attempting to “prove” we are “right” and the other person is “wrong.” The fact is that our feelings shape our perceptions, and so even when we are attempting to be logical and factual, we probably are less so than we think.
I love “winning” debates as much as anyone. But in intimate relationships, “winning” an argument often translates to losing the love we want. Each time we “prove” our partner “wrong,” we ultimately lose, because we fail to acknowledge our partner’s valuable contributions, and we diminish their role in the relationship.
So find the feelings, yours and your partner’s, and allow them to take center stage.
2. Take Turns
Agree who will share their movie first. While your partner is recounting their version of what happened, don’t think about anything else, just immerse yourself in their experience and allow their emotions about their story to touch your heart. Then when they are done, express your empathy and identification with their story. See if you can describe their experience from their point of view.
Once they feel totally heard and understood, ask if they are ready to hear your movie. When they are ready to listen with empathy and enthusiasm, or at least with curiosity, you can share your version of what happened. But be careful to tell it like you were telling it for the first time and avoid anything that smacks of asserting that your version is the “right” one. For instance, don’t say things like “I know for a fact.” Instead, say things like “In my movie, what happened was . . .”
3. Listen, Feel, Empathize and Enjoy the Movie!
When listening, suspend your critical observations and allow yourself to get pulled into your partner’s story as if you were sitting in a movie theatre allowing the story to sweep you away and impact your emotions. Laugh, cry, get caught up in the storyline without trying to figure out how your partner’s reality might impact you. At the points where their “movie” differs from your own, you may be tempted to shut down, but remember partnership is better served when we are able to perceive conflicting viewpoints simultaneously. Become an impartial observer as well as an enthusiastic movie-goer!
4. Don’t Try to “Solve” the Problem
Most importantly, don’t try to solve the conflict or come to an agreement about what did or did not happen, and what should or should not be done about the disagreement. For now, at least, focus on connecting at the heart level and feeling your partner’s emotions in your own body.
Too many of us try to “solve” our conflicts instead of connecting empathically with the emotions. But what happened is in the past. What matters is how we want to live moving forward. And what really defines an intimate relationship is the quality of the heart connection. We can tend to forget that when we are bent upon “winning” an argument. We all need understanding and emotional safety, especially from those we love. And not surprisingly, that is also what they need from us!