Coach Elizabeth Brink
Preparing for Rupture
Care Warning: The topic of conflict and repair can be triggering or painful. If this brings up emotional stuff please reach out to a therapist or trusted person to process it. Take care of you.
Let's reflect on our role and response in conflict and how to find our way back to connection. For the purposes of this exploration, we're focused on conflict and connection with people who are important to us, not randos on the internet.
Conflict repair refers to what happens after a relationship rupture. It's the place where you process, reconnect, and settle into a new normal after a conflict.
Social media seems to have improved all of our petty fighting skills. We yell and get yelled at often with no felt consequence or resolution. I'm so tired of disagreeing and being offended. It breeds resentment and disgust toward others, and yet everyday there are ample opportunities for more. This absolutely impacts how we engage in conflict and reconnect after in "real life" with people we care about.
All relationships have conflict, but navigating them and fixing it later are not natural abilities; they are skills that require practice.
Our ADHD makes us prone to impulsivity, which can cause conflict. Many neurodivergent folks also have a history of painful experiences that make us afraid to speak up, or we get stuck in a negative emotion and can't find the words to repair.
One view of conflict is that it is an opportunity to grow closer to another.
Dr. Dan Siegel writes a lot about child brain development and attachment. He says that if a parent met a child’s needs perfectly all the time, it would get in the way of their development. We need conflict. According to Seigel, though, the essential piece is repair.
We will experience rupture and miscommunications throughout our lives. Knowing how to ground ourselves and reconnect afterwards cultivates resilience.
According to podcaster Jennifer Hylton, "repair says you value the relationship." Hylton believes a great way to improve at repair is to actually spend more time preparing for it by strengthening relationships before riffs happen so repair is welcome.
Everyone will have a unique style and needs in how they navigate repair.
It's helpful to identify some ways you process conflict to communicate your needs to important people in your life.
You could also invite them to share their needs with you. It can make it much easier the next time things get tense.
Your needs may change based on who, what, where, etc, so let's not apply our skilled black and white thinking here. We're being flexible and open so when there is a breach of trust we can rebuild the connection.
For example, I know a couple where one partner really needs to talk it out right away and needs no tension hanging in the air, while the other partner needs to go away and process internally. The "verbal processor" has to remember to give the "internal processor" some space to figure out what they need and want to do —BUT just as critical— is the thinker remembering to come back and give space for the talker to process.
This is important relational work, but it is hard work.
I compiled a few suggestions from several sources for working toward repair. This isn't THE way; it's just some ideas. Notice what strikes you or spurs another awareness related to how YOU respond after a conflict.
Steps to authentic repair:
Reflect and acknowledge your part in it and where the other might be coming from. Consider the circumstances and what led up to the conflict. This could be just a couple of minutes noticing what's going on with you and/or them.
Acknowledge the offense. Sometimes we respond by hurting the other person, so both parties may need to bring awareness here. Try to name the other person's pain or anger. Check your understanding - did I hurt you? Help me understand how. Let others know when the relationship has been harmed— can we have a redo?
Express remorse by saying I’m sorry without adding a lot to it. Harriet Lerner encourages us to avoid tacking on a disciplinary component to apologies. Just say you're sorry, and let it sit in the air. You can offer a brief explanation of your POV, but use caution. Focus on the wounded person's experience. If explanation helps, keep it brief and don’t add in your grievances.
Express sincere effort to repair and avoid it happening again. Offer specific and concrete ways you’ll try to avoid it. Say what you want / need rather than what you don’t want to happen in the future. I have a request... Would you be willing to...
Forgive yourself because we make mistakes, and we hurt people. It is not who you are (that's shame), but it is something that was done (guilt). Shame may not try to work it out in ways that are productive. Be gentle with yourself— it takes practice!
If you are the wounded, some of these things can still apply, but you may need to do some work ahead of time to feel safe having these conversations.
Conflict is always multi-sided. There are always things we cannot know or see.
One note: There may not always be a way to repair, and sometimes it may not be safe or necessary for you to try. That is okay, too.
Now or the next time conflict arises, start exploring how you prefer to repair conflicts based on the circumstances and other party. Then, make your first attempt at sharing it with them before another conflict arises, so you have some acknowledged expectations.