Using Conflict To Enhance Connection In An Intimate Marriage

Alexandra Stockwell, MD: Why conflict is actually healthy for your marriage, and you need it to create true intimacy with your partner

Sometimes you and your spouse are just not on the same page.  Of course you love each other completely, and you know you have a good marriage, but there are moments when either one of you, or both of you just can’t seem to get it right. 


Perhaps you come home from a long day of work, and that pile of laundry which has been sitting in the laundry room for the past week is still there – even though you asked your partner to give you a hand a few days ago. Or, maybe you keep telling them that you’re going to make that doctor’s appointment and you never do – and now a larger problem has arisen because you decided to ignore some issue. 


We’ve all been there, and either way, we all know the end result; you (or your partner) feel unseen, unheard, unappreciated, and sometimes flat out disrespected. It’s not a great place to be in, and it emphasizes the point that there is always room for improved communication. Of course, this feeling manifests itself in many ways – not just chores. Maybe your partner pulls their phone out too much, or they interrupt you when you speak. There are so many basic situations where you feel out of alignment and it can be very frustrating.


We’ve all been there, and either way, we all know the end result; you (or your partner) feel unseen, unheard, unappreciated, and sometimes flat out disrespected. Click To Tweet


These kinds of situations happen to EVERYONE. It’s natural. It’s human nature. It’s part of life with another person. The key, however, to how close you feel depends on what happens next?


When you feel this way, do you pick a fight? Do you shut down? Or, are you perhaps a person who ignores it but ends up taking out your frustration on your child instead, by yelling at them about something minor? Maybe you prefer to distract yourself and pour yourself a glass of wine in an effort to simplify the situation. 


These moments seem insignificant, but they can be highly impactful. They can make your blood boil and send tingles right up your spine (not in a good way). 


The good news is that these moments are also full of potential.  Yes, you read that right. They are full of POTENTIAL. Good, alchemical potential. 


Each of these moments is an opportunity which can lead to more connection, better intimacy, and more soulful love. 


Are you wondering how this is possible, how it works? How something painful and complicated can become a source of connection and feeling closer? Well, it all comes down to how you respond. That’s what makes the difference in whether a challenging moment sours things for you or it ultimately depens the  soulful love between you.


Here’s how you do it:


Start by recognizing that your spouse’s behavior is impacting you. Acknowledge to yourself that their interest in their phone, or negligence in remembering to pay the bill, or whatever it is, means you no longer feel calm or generous. 


This is where people tend to be unconscious and unaware, feeling we are not proactive in our response when we actually are reactive. We all have massive blindspots which result in the experience that our initial reactive response is the “truth” when it’s actually very subjective. It’s essential to take stop a moment to pause, and notice what’s going on in the moment, not just in terms of your spouses behavior but in terms of how it’s impacting your own emotional landscape. 


The moment you realize you are activated, you immediately simultaneously have access to the power to shift and reclaim your agency. You can pivot and decide how you want to respond, rather than involuntarily reacting. 


Of course, this only works if you notice and then decide to make the appropriate adjustment. If you don’t notice it, then your internal experience will be determined by whatever event occurred, rather than having your own values and choices create your response. If you don’t take the time to clarify what’s happening for you, you’re most likely to end up having feelings of frustration, helplessness, rage, malcontent, and a sense of being unseen. 


If, however, you recognize that you were triggered and interrupt the pattern, you  will access sovereignty, agency, freedom, and the affirming experience that you are actively choosing your own responses. 


With practice, you will perceive that you have many more choices in how to respond than were at first apparent.


So once you notice you’ve been triggered and you decide to respond with control and caring, what happens next?


Well, you could simply say that you are triggered and you need to take a beat to pause and regain your calm. 


Alternatively you might ask a question to understand the other person’s experience and motivation. 


You could calmly say it’s important to you and ask what your spouse needs to follow through the next time. 


There are lots of different options which can work well for you, but you first have to recognize that you are, indeed, activated. And from there you can discover the most collaborative and successful solutions to the problem at hand. Because as long as you’re reactive and triggered, you’re likely to be blaming or defensive and that undermines how much connection is possible in that moment. 


One of the best gifts of having a growth-oriented, intimate marriage is learning how to use these frustrating times with a partner you love as a playground for your own development. It’s a kind of in-the-moment zen practice that creates amazing results. 



One of the best gifts of having a growth-oriented, intimate marriage is learning how to use these frustrating times w/a partner u love as a playground for ur own development. It’s a kind of in-the-moment zen practice that creates amazing… Click To Tweet


When you remember you both want one another to thrive, and you can see your own patterns, a commitment to expanding your capacities in the hard times paves the way for compassion, connection, and tender intimacy. 


Being consciously aware of your triggers can be difficult because the very nature of being “triggered” means you may not realize it.  In the moment it happens, your “primitive brain,” overpowers your “conscious brain” and you end up feeling justified in your outrage and righteous responses. But in allowing your “primitive brain” to take over, you are creating disconnection in your relationship. 


Shifting into more open hearted presence increases the emotional safety in your marriage and fosters emotional intimacy in the most delicious ways. 


Can you recognize when you are triggered? Yes. You can. It just takes practice, and patience, and trust that you’ll learn to catch it sooner the next time.As you do that, you’ll simultaneously see such moments in your relationship transition from sources of hurt to times of helpfulness. 

Try it for yourself! And if you’d like to learn more about having a growth oriented relationship read my book Uncompromising Intimacy and check out my coaching programs here


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