Dating Coach Ashley Kelsch Tackles Conflict in Relationships
It’s up to you to clean up your thoughts and move away from unhelpful emotion
By Ashley Kelsch
Ashley Kelsch is Austin’s top certified, professional dating and relationship coach and former owner of Teddies for Betty’s, the lingerie boutique on 2nd Street that she ran for a decade. She offers one-on-one life-coaching programs to help clients acknowledge and understand limiting beliefs, to set boundaries and to learn how to change mindsets so they can get what they want in their romantic lives and feel empowered. Ashley helps men and women of all ages, single and married. She has a weekly podcast called Modern Renegades, and you can follow her on Instagram @AshleyMKelsch. Read more of her Tribeza columns here.
Can we talk about conflict? It’s not the most exciting aspect of love, dating or relationships, but it is universal. Statically speaking, 100 percent of humans will experience conflict in relationships in his or her lifetime. From friends to children to lovers, to family members and spouses, unless you have the spiritual baseline of a monk, you can’t avoid it in any type of relationship.
We all have moments when we say the wrong thing or don’t show up as our best selves and someone’s feelings get hurt. Likewise, we are all capable of losing our temper—unreasonably, perhaps—when our partner shows up late to dinner even after we said, “It’s important that you show up on time.” Conflict occurs constantly. Yet very few of us are taught how to communicate about it or handle the flood of emotions that can consume us when it shows up.
What I see in my personal life and while working with clients is that most of us don’t effectively air our grievances and we assume the other person in the tussle knows all about our hang-ups.
How could he not know how upset I am? She should call and admit she was wrong. Send flowers. Beg for forgiveness. How could he say those words that hurt me? She knows being on time is important to me.
Instead of addressing the problem, people tend to spend days—sometimes weeks—trying to solve it on their own. Doing this usually takes us deeper into another layer of emotions, compounding the experience and frustration. But if it’s my brain that has the issue, the likelihood of that same brain effectively addressing said issue is unlikely. At first, we were hurt or offended; now we are that plus frustrated, resentful and angry.
And that just feels terrible.
We tend to trade the discomfort of hard conversations for staying disconnected from the other person involved, but this only puts off the inevitable. I urge my clients to make a U-turn, so they look at themselves first to establish an understanding of what is happening in their mind when they are upset with someone else.
When we feel attacked, our defenses go up and we of react. How this plays out for us individually will look different based on the systems set in place from our life experience, but many people will replay the instigating event in their head 17 different ways and plan what to do next.
“Conflict occurs constantly. Yet very few of us are taught how to communicate about it or handle the flood of emotions that can consume us when it shows up.”
I call this a thought error. We keep going around and around about what he did wrong and how right you are, gathering more and more evidence to support your case.
You’re in a trance, Tara Brach would say. Your brain has been hijacked, Daniel Goldman would claim based on his book, Emotional Intelligence. Basically, in these moments we aren’t thinking rationally.
Here’s what you can do: Drop an anchor right where you are and regulate your thoughts. Identify and create awareness around what you are thinking, how you are feeling and what you are doing and not doing when you are upset with someone. Put some space between the way you feel and taking any actions.
This simple act will shift you out of the experience and into being the watcher. From there, you can dissect the story and clean up your thinking. Ask yourself, what are the facts? Would everyone agree that it happened that way? How does that feel for you? Ask yourself how you want to feel or would need to feel to reach out to the other person to discuss. Useful emotions like compassion, understanding, curiosity or confusion (my favorite) are helpful in these scenarios.
Next, be willing to be wrong. I know. This doesn’t feel good, and your brain is going to resist it ten times over. But for us to authentically clean up our thoughts, we must be willing to be wrong. We each have our version of the truth. When we acknowledge this, we can begin to understand where the other person is coming from.
When the time comes to talk it out, explain what you see but ask them to tell you what you’re missing. This is where confusion comes in handy: “I’m confused … when we talked about dinner plans and meeting at 7, I thought we both agreed. What did I miss?” You don’t need them to understand your feelings. But you do need to understand their point of view.
Once you hear their perspective, identify just the facts of what happened. What you could both prove in the court of law? Then define the meaning attached by each party to the action that ignited the conflict: “When you did this, I took it to mean this. And you made it mean this…”
Lastly, agree to spend your energy focusing on coming up with solutions, not rehashing what happened. Learning to have a difficult conversation like this will deepen your connections and relationships, while teaching you how to be responsible for your own emotions.
There is no better work, my friends.