6 Questions To Ask When Dealing With Conflict
Seek the answers within before going into battle
His hand darts to the ‘x’ in the top corner of the laptop screen and the open window is swallowed. Never mind, I saw enough.
It always begins the same way.
Short breaths and an ache that expands in the space at the bottom of my rib cage. My throat burns as I try to make sense of what I just saw and what that might mean for us, for me. I pan forward to worst case scenarios and flashes back to possible missed warning signs, clues of things unraveling. My emotions and rationality wrestle one another, winner takes all. Rage rolls off my tongue, masking the fear that rumbles below. This isn’t going to be pretty.
What happened next was a turn up for the books. I bit down hard on the accusations until my mouth filled with the blood, I spat out the heavy pit in my stomach, and I asked questions. Not snipey questions aimed to wound, but open questions aimed to understand.
The conversation came in waves. Resolutions reached on the lounge betrayed by a lingering unsettledness, bubbling up again as I lay my head on the pillow that night. A tuning in, tuning out type deal when one of us — me — felt composed enough to take up where we left off. Four days pass.
The conversation would be over when a sense of security and a closeness was re-established.
On Asking Questions
Vocabulary liberates but it can also entrap. Often we turn away from new ideas out of disgust; how the words feel on our tongue or what they imply. Or we avoid going deep into our psyche, not wanting to risk the tentative calm we have over our chaotic lives. We crave feeling grounded, steady and in control too much to upset the apple cart.
But what if we’re missing out on a deeper understanding of ourselves that could increase our life satisfaction or improve our relationships?
At some point in those four days he says to me, ‘you seem to know all these words to figure this stuff out’.
I shake my head. ‘I don’t,’ I say, ‘but I know what’s going on for me.’
Knowing yourself should be your primary goal on this earth if you’re seeking connection, satisfaction and meaning.
One ‘What’ and Five ‘Whys’
Self-knowledge develops when you ask yourself reflective questions and this framework is a great place to start:
- What am I feeling as a result of X? — it helps to begin here. Can you name all the emotions bursting within you? Write them down. Don’t rush this step, it’s important to acknowledge the loud emotions and the ones whispering on the edges. Google a thesaurus if you have to, but get them all down.
- Why am I feeling this? This ‘why’ isn’t your answer FYI. It’s your front line defense and you have to get through it before you can go deeper.
- Repeat ‘why am I feeling this’ four more times and then maybe you’ll land close to the core of why you feel the way you do.
Let me demonstrate with our example from earlier:
Problem: Partner appearing to hide something on the laptop
What I was feeling:
>fear about what he was hiding and how it might hurt me
>left-out and curious
>shame for doubting his honesty — maybe it was nothing…
>boredom and accompanying jealousy that he was stimulated and I was stuck in routine and feeling numb
>frustration at self and exposed — I know the stats. I know we can’t ever really know another person. Why did I let my guard down only to find myself in this situation again? (history repeats itself is what I was thinking…3rd times a charm…insert other cliches…)
>not-enough-ness — because he was sneaking around, was he bored with me, with us? Was he unhappy? Had I not been a good partner?
>disappointment and entrapment — for letting myself rely on another human again (see above) and for their humanness, and because I’d put my eggs in the basket I swore I’d never fill again
Why #1: I was feeling the above because he hid something from me
Why #2: Why did hiding something matter? It felt like a breach of trust and may have meant he was cheating, or at least thinking about it
Why #3: Why did I draw that conclusion? It’s happened to me many times before and the action felt familiar
Why #4: Why did it feel familiar? We haven’t been connecting enough lately — emotionally or intimately. This is creating a weakness in our bond.
Why #5: Why haven’t we been connecting? I’ve been distracted with school starting back and changing jobs, we’ve not been making proper time except late at night when we’re both tired, I stopped all my self-care practices that keep desire burning, he’s been ‘off’ and I couldn’t reach him emotionally, I wait for him to lead, I haven’t wanted to connect because I’ve felt apathetic towards him…
Action: Once you’re at the root, or roots, you can take action to address each point of the 5th ‘why’. We addressed each of the above and I penciled in some activities that would reawaken my inner spark and bring us closer again.
Introspection + action = progress towards what you want and need
It might feel heavy. It certainly felt heavy to write and even heavier to plumb the depths of what drove my emotional responses, but it’s worthy work if you’re serious about a life of connection instead of fighting on a loop.
As it turns out, his closing the computer window did not signal the impending death of our relationship and there was no desire on his part to seek out another woman. It was however, a warning of how you can live in the same house as someone and sleep in the same bed, and not feel close to them. It was time to have a real conversation about more than household logistics and weekend plans.
My advice? Don’t ignore these moments to peel back the layers of your own responses even if it feels scary or intense. Your emotions are what will lead you home.