Many people in relationships can find themselves stuck in cycles of repeated conflict. It feels like the same fight keeps happening over and over again. The “here we go again” type of argument. It’s natural to feel defeated by the conflict and unsure when connection and intimacy can return…or if it can return at all. It is challenging when conflict becomes more familiar than comfort. Can you relate? It is hard to know how to change constant conflict so if you relate then you are not alone. Part of working toward comfort and connection in your relationship is by understanding what is fueling the conflict with an observational approach. To help us have a frame of reference for this observational approach consider our tip of looking at your relationship through the eyes of a detective. We’ll help you learn to identify when it’s time to put on your detective hat along with what to do once you have that detective hat on. Being a detective with the conflict in your relationship is one step towards hopefully finding calm over the conflict in your relationship.
First, let’s start by defining that a detective’s primary role is to investigate. The purpose of investigating is to discover and examine the information of the situation at hand. The challenging part of the conflict is that emotions are involved and it can be hard to know when to slow down, pause, or even stop to consider if there’s a better way to communicate (to discuss the hard things). So how do you know when it is time to reach for that detective hat to investigate? Here’s a list of times when a detective hat may be needed:
- The tone of the conversation is changing: Maybe you don’t agree on a topic and begin to try to express why, but the tone is changing from a calm one to one that’s more harsh, heated, or debate like
- The volume of the conversation is elevating: Maybe both people aren’t feeling heard so they feel like they need to raise their volume to emphasize their feelings or concerns with one another
- The pace of the conversation is increasing in speed: Maybe one person is trying to share their point of view and interruption occurs so the conversation becomes more of a rapid-fire of back and forth
- The eye contact begins to fade away: Maybe one or both partners are beginning to become overwhelmed and is wanting to withdraw from the conversation
- The temperature of the room is changing: Maybe you can feel the room heating up and it no longer feels cool or collected.
Once you begin to notice any or all of the above, it’s time to pause and consider putting on the detective hat. Conflict is likely on its way and it is important to get an idea of what you would ideally like to have to happen at this moment and what you feel is important to hear and communicate. This is the start of the detective process to your relationship’s conflict. Now that you know when it may be a good time to put on the detective hat, we’ll share some ideas on what you can ask yourself while in detective mode.
First, it’s good to consider how to find space for detective mode to happen instead of conflict. So when conflict is brewing it’s okay to say, “I need a little time to think about this…” You’re saying, “I need a little time to investigate what’s coming up for me.” In detective mode. When couples are not effectively solving problems it is essential to take time to gain clarity on why the conflict is escalating. A detective would want to know all of the facts of the case and would consider how everyone is reacting as a good source of information. So let’s go back to the list from before and we will offer some additional questions for investigation:
- The tone of the conversation is changing:
- What is happening/happened to cause either one of us to become upset, tense, or harsh?
- What am I feeling and why? What might my partner be feeling and why?
- The volume of the conversation is elevating:
- When did you find yourself/partner raising your voice?What was said/done?
- Was yelling helpful to the conversation? Did both people get to communicate their feelings/needs? What still needs to be communicated?
- The pace of the conversation is increasing in speed:
- Are there interruptions happening while each person is trying to communicate?
- What might be causing there to be impatience with the conversation?
- The eye contact begins to fade away:
- What may be causing one or both of you to pull away? What is happening?
- Has eye contact been replaced with eye-rolling? What caused the shift?
- The temperature of the room is changing:
- Do you physically notice your body getting warmer or any other bodily sensations like a rapid heart rate, tightness of chest/muscles, fast breathing, or shaking?
- Is there anything familiar with how you feel in this conflict with other life experiences?
These questions are a starting point for your detective work in your relationship and will begin to help you slow down the escalating conflict by trying to understand it a little better. Without pausing to investigate the case is still incomplete with much-needed facts still to be uncovered. Conflict can continue to happen over and over again because there are lingering holes in the case.
Thinking about all this information may feel like a lot to take in to decipher what it all means. And it’s hard to know how to make a change in the relationship so you’re no longer stuck in conflict. That’s to be expected. It takes time to understand how parts of your relationship have gotten stuck and observing it through the lens of a detective can help gain insight. Know that working to gain insight is part of the process of change so it’s necessary to allow time and space to be in detective mode in your relationship. Maybe next time you feel a big disagreement or fight coming on rather than saying “here we go again” you envision yourself all suited up in your detective uniform ready to investigate what’s happening and why.
We hope this helps as a starting point to move through conflict differently. Feel free to explore an additional resource offered for the next steps: Respond vs React Course.