Self-Awareness and Conflict Resolution in Intimate Relationships
The most important questions in resolving a conflict between intimate partners are
- What am I feeling? and
- What am I doing to express or to drown out my feelings?
The goal is to know what you are feeling because you can manage feelings if you are aware of them, but passions outside of awareness will be unbridled and can be destructive.
As you try to identify your feelings, keep in mind that a description of a situation is not a feeling even if the words “I feel that” are attached to it. For example, “I feel he/she is lying to me,” is not a description of feelings. People may feel different emotions when a partner is lying–betrayed, abandoned, sad, scared, and more.
The most common feelings that we experience in a conflict are anger and anxiety. So the following questions should be your first responders of self-examination in a conflict.
- Am I angry, how angry am I, where in my body am I feeling my anger, why am I angry, at whom, and am I expressing or suppressing my anger and how?
- Am I anxious, how anxious am I, where in my body am I feeling anxiety, what’s the worst that can happen, how likely is the worst case scenario, and am I doing something to distract myself from or to ward off anxiety?
Of course, there are many more emotions and having an accurate picture is vital. There are two reasons for this.
- First, seeking to be aware of your feelings is a way to calm down and avoid knee-jerk reactions.
- Second, awareness is a value in therapy (including couples and family therapy) and in mediation (conflict resolution), and awareness means complete awareness, i.e. being aware of all components of experience, not just a part of experience.
Fortunately, we are not limited to anger and anxiety, although in a crisis or in a conflict it might feel like we are. There are many more feelings, of course. See the chart below for a much more complete list.
Why is seeking to be aware of your feelings also a way to calm down? Because it gives you something to do when you are swept up by negative feelings–to discern and identify instead of boil over and act out. So, it turns out that seeking self-awareness is also a form of self-management.
In addition, knowing what you are feeling can help you connect to your partner and feel heard, for example, by sharing your emotional experience as you talk about your feelings or by executing a strategy, for example, involving reframing your feelings (more about this later). So, when self-awareness leads to self-expression, it becomes also a form of self-management and other-management. Also, how you are feeling can color how you see others. Being aware of how you are feeling can help one maintain a more objective view of people. So self-awareness can also lead to other-awareness.
Second, the appeal of awareness in therapy and mediation comes from the fact that awareness is a form of truth, while incomplete awareness is an incomplete truth. To know yourself and to know your partner, as relevant in a conflict, means to know the emotional state in all of its complexity. In order to feel seen and heard, people in crisis need to feel seen and heard completely, and “completely” means with all the complexity of their inner emotional world.
As you see above, self-awareness is immediately useful for other aspects of emotional intelligence, such as self-management, other-awareness, and other-management.