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The discussion may be as simple as where to go to dinner yet ends in a screaming match. Why? Some partners may be incapable of resolving conflict.
Owning a mistake, understanding a partner’s perspective, and identifying a compromise, are healthy ways to resolve conflict. A couple who repairs a rift quickly is usually happier, more at peace, and able to sustain trust.
Alternatively, arguments which constantly spiral into power struggles and end with a winner and loser, may indicate a problem. A partner who lacks skills such as, self-awareness, open-mindedness, and empathy may be robustly and rigidly defended. Although defense mechanisms are universal and necessary, a defensive structure that is overbearing may prevent a person from experiencing the uncomfortable, but necessary, emotions that allow for a healthy resolution.
You know you’re a worrier if you can empathize with Flounder from The Little Mermaid or Marlin from Finding Nemo, Disney’s duo of anxious fish (do I detect a theme?). Likewise if you live by Mad-Eye Moody’s insistence on “constant vigilance!” Or if you identify with Fear from Inside Out (though that one’s almost too easy).
Regardless of which worrier you relate to, you’re in good company. It's estimated that more than one-third of Americans—that’s over 100 million people—will struggle with an anxiety disorder in their lifetime.
However, for something so common, worry is something of an enigma.
Perpetual conflict is having the same arguments or disagreements over and over again. It can feel exhausting and frustrating to have the same fight day after day with your partner.
Is flooding to blame?
Before you deal with the conflict, it may help to assess if flooding could be getting in your way. Flooding or Diffuse Physiological Arousal is the body’s alarm system to help you escape a perceived threat. When physical harm threatens you, like a speeding car through a crosswalk, your body goes into fight-or-flight mode. Adrenaline surges through your body to prepare to fight the threat or get away quickly. Your heart rate increases, your breathing quickens, digestion slows down, blood pressure increases, and it’s all to help you to safety. If a car is about to hit you, this is especially useful as it gives you extra strength and focus to get out of the way. Once you are safe, the adrenaline leaves your body and you begin to relax.
Identify your triggers and stop your negative emotional spiral.
• Identify when you have been triggered.
• Ask yourself what happened to trigger you.
• Hit pause and look at the situation.
• Find self-compassion and kindness toward self.
Learning how to connect to your emotions can boost well-being.
• Many people do not understand emotions or recognize how to navigate them. Societal messages—for example that showing emotion is a "weakness"—can reinforce that behavior.
• Signs that someone is uncomfortable with emotion include conflict avoidance, difficulty relaxing, and an inability to accept compliments, among others.
• People can accept their emotions by learning more about them and how they help people respond to their environment.
It can hardly be emphasized enough that all viewpoints are subjective. Here we’re not talking about a closed, delimited mathematical system not open to debate. For 2 + 2 will always equal 4, regardless of whether anyone (for who knows what reason) might wish—or will—it to be otherwise.
When, however, it comes to humans, an objective, irrefutable point of view doesn’t exist. For all viewpoints relate not to incontrovertible facts but to variable and diverse perspectives. On one level, these apprehensions derive from differing emotional proclivities; on another, from personal opinion and interpretation.
Fear is a biologically adaptive response. If we experience something threatening—like coming across a bear or mountain lion in the woods—fear activates our fight or flight response and helps us to escape safely. But now that we have TV, internet, and smartphones showing us things to be afraid of 24-7, our fear response can quickly go on overdrive, leading to longer-term stress and anxiety.
But this extra fear does more than just stress us out. Research suggests that our worrisome thoughts can interfere with working memory and attention, such that we have a more difficult time doing whatever it is that we’re doing. Moreover, our mental energy is not bottomless, meaning that we can use it up when we attempt to do things to decrease our anxiety. As a result, we’re left mentally and emotionally exhausted.
At the beginning of the pandemic, my patients would confide in me about how difficult it was for them: “Trying to parent, school my kids from home, and sustain a relationship is too much, it’s totally unsustainable. And it is breaking me.”
But that was nearly a year ago. What I’m hearing now is more dramatic and reveals, collectively, how worn-out we are. “I feel that I’ve failed. I haven’t been a good parent, I haven’t been a good teacher. I feel that I’ve let my partner down. I feel that I’ve let my family down.”