A Simple Technique To Lessening Conflict…

by Reid on May 28, 2013

ConflictIt might not seem super romantic, but if you can add ease and reduce struggle in your relationship every time you argue, that’s pretty special. Especially when you can do it so easily. And this can be applied even when things are going great!

So what is this technique? It’s a really, really small thing that can help create ease and lessen conflict: wherever it’s appropriate, touch your partner during arguments, discussions, and in general.

It’s really simple, but we live in such a weird society with corporate sexual harassment policies that started off for very good reasons. The problem is people bring their corporate policies home with them rather then leave them at work where they belong. It makes sense why we unconsciously bring them home: we want to be really good people and we don’t want to harass anyone. However, one of the areas of Life that got sterilized by corporate policies for us is the realm of touch. We’ve become so afraid to touch people in our work lives that it’s crept into our home lives and many of us have lost our abilty to “reach out and touch” those we love. So, certainly in your romantic relationships, and in friendships where it’s appropriate, if you’re having a conflict or an argument, a really simple thing that you can implement that can shift outcomes for the better is staying connected somehow physically.

Personal Example: Whenever my partner Alison and I are in a fight, whomever remembers first will basically say, “Hey, I want to touch you while we’re having this fight.” That may sound completely crazy because when you’re fighting you want to be throwing things at people, not touching them! But the subtext here is if you’re not physically connected you’re disconnected. The greater subtext you create by touching each other is this: Eventhough we are in disagreement, I want to remain connected to you. So, when you’re having an argument or a difficult conversation, create a way to stay physically connected.

For Alison and me, it can be something as simple as our feet touching underneath the table when we’re having a conversation, or we’ll sit close enough to have our knees touch each other. We’ll sit across from each other and I’ll just reach out across the table or she’ll reach out across the table, and we’ll just have our finger tips touch.

bigstock-Couple-have-an-argument-31885028Why Do This? The message you’re sending is that you’re really invested in staying connected with each other while you’re having a difficult conversation. This can dramatically change the argument and the energy behind the conversation that you’re having. Trust me on this one AND try it out for yourself!

An added bonus is you don’t have to just stay connected when you’re having a difficult conversationYou can stay connected when things are great.

This may be more challenging for you at first, depending on what culture you grew up in. Was there a lot of touch in your community? Maybe you grew up in a non-touchy, non-feelie environment. I lived in New York City for 16 years. New Yorkers are totally fine for the most part being all squished together because of the subways, crowded streets, and the elevators. New Yorkers are used to feeling like sardines, so they tend to be very comfortable for the most part with people being schmooshed together. However, some New Yorkers have overcompensated and developed an ability to disconnect while connected. It’s a highly developed form of ignoring people even when they’re plastered up against you! LOL!

People from the Midwest, on the other hand, if you tell them to sit down in a group, they’ll tend to give themselves a lot of space. So sitting right up next to and rubbing sholders with a Medwesterner might cuase them to look at you funny.

It’s not that being from one place is better than the next. It’s about whether you’re aware of and have control over your ability to be/remain open and to connect from an open place.

Personal space needs are different and it may take a bit of getting used to if you or your partner came from a non-touchy place or family background. You may need to learn how to open back up again and “drop your walls” if you’re from a place like New York City. Whatever it takes to get there, it is worth it though! The basic thing is opening up and staying connected in little ways to reinforce that you guys want to be connected. And the more mindful you can be about it all, the better!

So even when you’re not having a fight or difficult conversation, are you touching your partner? Are you holding hands? Are you sitting close to each other and just kind of leaning up next to each other? You don’t have to be cuddling all the time or making out at every moment, but when you sit on the sofa and watch television are you sitting close or on opposite ends of the couch?

When we go out to dinner at a restaurant, am I sitting across the table from you and never touching, or am I scooting over and sitting next to you? Are we playing footsies underneath the table? How can you create more contact and connection?

If you’re with a partner who’s not very touchy feely, ask them to read this. Explain to them that you would like to create more, subtle ways of staying connected because — and this is true… studies have shown that staying physically connected (even if it’s just touching knees), subconsciously, things seem better, and when there is more distance, especially when emotions are heightened, the subtext is that things are worse.

For Those Of You In Long Distance Relationships: if you want to stay connected, don’t underestimate the power of video calls like FaceTime, Skype or ooVoo. Being able to see each other can make a huge difference.

For those of you who don’t have video capabilities, or if video doesn’t resonate, something as simple as having a picture of your partner in front of you when you call them can increase the sense of connection. If you have a picture of them on your desk or on your bookshelf, look at the picture while you’re talking to them on the phone.

Trust me on this one. It’s really, really subtle stuff but psychologically it’s really powerful and if done repeatedly, these baby bite-sized pieces over the course of weeks and months and years, build habits and connections. The ability and natural urge to stay in touch, whether it’s visually or physically, has a strong positive cumulative effect on your relationship.

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