How To Stop Escalating Conflict - How To Win a Man's Heart

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August 10, 2014

How To Stop Escalating Conflict

“Every moment of our life is relationship. There is nothing except relationship,” Joko Beck wrote in her book, “Every Day Zen”.  It seems for human beings that this can be a most difficult task.  We search, succeed, and fail.  We struggle to achieve a loving and emotionally and physically intimate relationship.

To be connected is our intrinsic human nature.

Emotional Bonding

Do you remember how you felt about your partner and yourself when you fell in love?  Everything was so magical.  Emotionally connected, you were free to give and receive love.  You were able to overlook your partner’s imperfections.   You were less impacted by your own unresolved childhood wounds or previous relationship injuries.  The relationship felt like a safe haven.

Falling Out

Then, you experienced that first conflict that shook up your inner and outer world.  An unexpected earthquake came from nowhere and hit you hard.  You were still enjoying the sweet feeling of love and tried to repair the damage and your partner was able to receive the reconnection.  Then another conflict came along, followed by another one.

This led to longer disconnections and the cold ice of isolation.  Your sense of security and safety was challenged.  Your trust broke.  You might have even questioned your love for each other.  When the conflicts became more rigid and irreconcilable, your loving relationship turned into dissatisfaction.

Beginning of Time

How safe and secure we feel in our relationship determines our ability to cope with conflicts.

Experiencing an unbroken affectionate bond was essential in our early age of our life.  For some of us this was not available.   Lack of affectionate care during our discomfort or an absence of closeness when we needed it the most left us with a raw spot, a scar around our heart.   Most of us carry this loss in adult relationships.  We all long for an affectionate and loving bond.  But we protect our heart with either emotional distance or by demanding closeness.

You might have experienced an undamaged emotional bond at certain times of your life.

You were comfortable to be autonomous as well as comfortable seeking help and support from your partner.  You were willing to disclose your thoughts, feelings, and fears.  You were able to rely on your partner’s care and emotional support.  Then you experienced relationship injury(s), such as infidelity, loss of a loved one, or divorce. The secure bond was lost again.

Getting Stuck

The clinical case below is series of common situations faced by couples I have worked with.  The names are fictional.

Kathy and Peter were a married couple losing their hope to reconcile their relationship.   They had been thinking about divorce after ongoing, painful fights.  They had been married for eight years.   Kathy complained that their marriage was lacking sexual intimacy and that they were arguing a lot.  She had a great desire for emotional connection which her husband was unable to provide.

She talked about being unhappy, her heart being broken in this marriage, as well as feeling that she was not being supported.   Her speech was fast and loud.   Her words were critical and her emotions heightened by anger.  As she talked, I noticed her husband’s reaction.

He slouched into the couch, facing away from his partner.  His body seemed frozen and his face was expressionless.   He shut down and was unreachable.  When I asked Kathy if she could share herself when her husband was responsive she said, “No. I’ve tried so many ways to communicate with him but he shuts down or leaves the room.  At home he does the same things as he is doing now.”

Slowing Down

Kathy and Peter are caught in a dance of negative interaction patterns.  The emotional bond between them is broken.

In conflictual situations, Kathy perceives that her husband is not available to fulfill her needs to connect or rebuffs the request.  Her anxiety heightens.   She becomes angry, even aggressive.  Even when he responds, she doesn’t trust him completely.  Peter’s lack of responsiveness fuels her insecurity and intensifies her anxiety.  “I am so fed up with trying.”  Then she suppresses her needs for support and disengages from the conversation feeling hurt and awfully lonely.

During distress, Peter perceives Kathy’s emotional needs as overwhelming.  “I am already guarded.  Here comes the storm again.  When she raises her voice, I feel I am in trouble.  I can never make her happy.”  Peter feels guilty and shamed by his inability to be there for Kathy in those moments.  “Sometimes I respond with anger or just want to disappear to avoid further fighting. “  Then, when Kathy leaves, it causes him further fear of being abandoned.

In moments of disconnection both partners feel hurt and lonely.  They are both triggered by their own raw spots.  Kathy has feelings of abandonment.  Peter has feelings of inadequacy and failure.  Both have deep rooted scars from earlier times in their life.

Deconstruction of the Conflict 

When a simple argument or disagreement surfaces and is ready to turn into a major storm, remember the place you always go and get trapped.  Remember at the end you both get hurt.

When we’re arguing, we fight for our relationship colored by our sense of insecurity and feeling of    being unsafe.  We feel vulnerable.

Consider that the content of the problem is not the problem, but in this vulnerable state we are afraid to reach out for care and comfort.

We develop a negative interactional pattern and we get stuck in this cycle.  By identifying this and naming it the “real” problem it settles down and loses its power.

Consider how both of you construct your experience during the conflict.  This is based on your problematic thoughts and emotional processes.

Left alone- angry- pushy and attacking    –     Defensive – failure – numbness – shut down.

An angry, critical tone triggers your partner is defensiveness and contributes to your partner’s       disconnection.

Be responsible for your own feelings.

Consider that your angry outburst is fueled by fear covering the old scars of sadness and loneliness.

Fear is also your partner’s driving force to become defensive and turn into numbness providing a shield to hide being shameful.

In a calm voice sharing your strong feelings and confusion helps your partner be responsive.

Remember when you are connected your feelings will naturally affect your partner.

Be curious and listen.

When both of you recognize your own “raw spots” consider listening to each other with an open heart and acceptance.  Listen for your partner’s fears of being vulnerable and the inability to correct the negative patterns in the relationship.

Take risk

Sharing your deepest emotions of sadness, shame but most often your fear (abandonment or rejection) with your partner might be very difficult steps but very rewarding.

At this point of the process you and your partner are on the same ship together and able to save it from sinking.  After courageously facing your common enemy, your own insecurities, you are both able to control the escalating conflicts.

Applying these tools creates new positive interactional patterns.  Couples regain a sense of trust and a sense of connection.

(This article is based on my training and practice in Emotional Focused Therapy (EFT), developed by Dr. Susan Johnson.)

About Klara Brown

Klara Brown

I am a Hungarian born U.S. educated Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) specializing in Marriage and Family Counseling and Sexual Health.  My primary emphasis is to guide couples to develop their emotional and sexual intimacy.  I have 12 years of experience at various mental health agencies.  Currently, I maintain a private practice in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, minutes from downtown Denver.

I graduated from Naropa University in Boulder with an MA in Contemplative Psychology.  Recently, I completed the Denver Family Institute’s Marriage and Family Therapy certification program.  As a Marriage and Family Counselor, I offer uniquely personalized, well researched therapeutic services that have a solid theoretical base to couples, families, individuals.  I guide couples to strengthen their sense of connection and intimacy to establish a secure and lasting relationship.  I am passionate about helping their relationship attain its highest potential.  I also support individuals to uncover their true potential and lead a life that is worth celebrating.  Personal growth is a lifelong journey.  Successful relationships and strong family lives are the building blocks.  My work is holistic and strengths based.  I foster acceptance and a safe environment for each individual. My clients value my openness and feedback during the sessions.

I work with a wide range of emotions and behavioral issues providing services for couples issues, family problems, intimacy, depression/anxiety, grief, sexual issues, infidelity, parenting, abuse/trauma, and stress management.

I believe that we all need extra support and guidance whether we are going through a challenging situation or just ready to move in a new direction in our life.  Having the support of a compassionate therapist is appropriate for those who are looking for to deepen their emotional and sexual relationships with their partner as well as for those who want to explore a personal growth.

My approach to couples and family therapy is based primarily on the work of Dr. Susan Johnson, developer of Emotional Focused Therapy (EFT), and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) methods to treat trauma and developmental wounds.  I also integrate a mindfulness awareness approach into my session.

Clients can…increase their emotional intimacy and sexual desire, gain deeper understanding of one’s self or one’s partner, find hope to move on with their relationship after an affair with forgiveness and healing, increase quality time and activities with family, resolve conflicts, and improve physical health in a loving relationship.

To know more about me, visit my website,