Fighting is Not Conflict Resolution: How to Give Skillful Feedback to Your Partner.
Giving skillful feedback—or being a mirror for your partner—is one of the greatest gifts of intimate relationship. It enables both partners to grow, to feel seen, known, secure and cared for. But sometimes, an unskillful exchange that takes place, can leave the receiver feeling hurt or attacked—and the giver, feeling unheard—like a nag or a tyrant.
I prefer when you kiss me this way, can be heard as: I don’t like the way you kiss. You don’t satisfy me.” Or I really feel like I could use some alone time can become, I’m not in love with you anymore.
Many couples get in a bad habit of simply blurting out their grievances or withholding them without taking pause to figure out exactly what they wish to communicate. A partner may have dissatisfaction with a situation or difficulty with a feeling they’re experiencing, and simply deliver a hurtful blow to their partner from a place of ungrounded, unexamined defensiveness. Partners go tit-for-tat, exchanging insults and wounding each other deeply. This is what’s commonly referred to as a fight. This is what we’re trying to avoid.
So, how can loving partners learn to navigate the risky terrain of helping one another be their best self without harming the other person or damaging security in the relationship?
The first step is to understand what may be causing our best intentions to have ineffective, or even painful outcomes. Then we can learn to practice new skills with communication and vulnerability.
Good, skillful feedback requires a conscious transaction between partners. There can be a lot of leg work for partners to do separately before they thinking of bringing a request to the interpersonal space.
Here’s an important thing to remember: when we want to give genuine feedback, there is often anxiety before we give it—it’s called vulnerability. Common reaction to feeling vulnerable is to get defensive. This anxious, vulnerable feeling is difficult to be with, and can cause us to get defensive before we even speak.
When we get nervous about a conflict, a basic primal reaction occurs in the body—adrenaline starts going—it can be hard to corral an instinctual fight or flight response. Limbic arousal is one of the oldest survival mechanisms we have. It’s there to protect us. But, we may be giving it too much sway in a conflict resolution situation with a partner we love.
The problem with this is our partner is likely to perceive this defensiveness as coming out of left field, and experience it as more of an offensive attack. This, of course, is the opposite of what we’re trying to do when we give feedback. When we put someone on the defensive, it is unlikely that they’ll be open enough to listen to us because now we are a threat. Keeping this in mind, and we can start to focus on what we can do to improve our delivery.
Here’s what skillful feedback looks like:
The giver is centered and grounded.
The giver has already discerned, what is the purpose if this feedback? and asked the question: is this feedback truly in the best interest of my partner?
The giver recognizes the level of risk to the receiver. The feedback could be hurtful or embarrassing or cause shame or pain. Skillful feedback may bring up all those things, but it’s done in a way that’s healing.
The giver uses a non-threatening tone and languaging, and shows that s/he cares without being patronizing.
The giver is respectful, caring and non-shaming. The feedback is given in private, and is not dramatic. And, there is adequate time given to the process.
The giver goes slow. Feedback must be given in digestible bits so not to overwhelm the receiver.
The giver checks in with the receiver to see how s/he’s doing. Can the receiver handle more, or is s/he full?
Good feedback should be a positive experience for both the giver and receiver. Done skillfully, there will be healing, learning and integration for both partners.
Remember that if we have a fear of giving feedback in our relationship, it’s not about our partner—but about us. Giving skillful feedback in a caring way is our opportunity to work with our own vulnerability. We’re being vulnerable when we show up for our partner and offer our heartfelt reflection and desire for something to change.
Also keep in mind that learning to give feedback is a learned skill—it’s a practice, and it will probably get messy. But when we learn to navigate the mess, and repair any unintentional hurt, it will bring us even closer together. If done with grace and presence, giving good feedback is a service to ourselves and the ones we love. There;s a giving and a receiving that happens and it may surprise us who is actually receiving.
May you delight in the balance of skillful practice and joyful play in your relationships.
Lesley Glenner, as an attachment therapist, helps her clients to have healthy relationships in all areas of life. This includes the relationship with self, intimate partners, family, food and past experiences. She continually travels through the terrain of her own shadow, and is therefore able to skillfully and compassionately guide her clients through their own journey to experience clarity, empowerment, and happiness.
Clients seek Lesley’s profound work when they’re struggling in their relationships, frustrated that intimacy has been challenging or feel they will never have the loving partnership they long for. You can visit her website at www.holobeingllc.com.
Editor: Nikki Di Virgilio
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