Staying Connected: Eight Epic Tips for Connecting Physically, Even If You’re Angry
Every relationship has its share of ups and downs. When disagreements or misunderstandings cause you to become hurt or angry, the intimacy you share with your partner may suffer. Physical intimacy often takes a hit when you fight with your significant other, especially if you tend to think about sex (or the withholding of sex) as a bargaining tool to resolve issues in your relationship.
Learning how to connect when you’re troubled, hurt or angry can help defuse negative feelings and lead to greater openness in your relationship. In fact, resolving differences productively without creating distance or impacting your physical relationship can increase feelings of closeness and intimacy and make you that much stronger together.
That all sounds well and good, right? But how do you actually connect physically when you’re feeling hurt or angry? The following strategies can be helpful in resolving relationship conflicts in a productive manner without compromising intimacy.
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Create a Safe Space for Intimacy AND Disagreement
1. Establish a Mutual Commitment to Resolving Issues
Let’s face it, conflict can be challenging. Most of us didn’t go to relationship school. We learned our strategies for navigating conflict from watching our parents disagree. In the healthiest of homes, your role models may have been screamers and shouters, avoiders, manipulators, or dominators. Or they may have concealed disagreements from you altogether.
In a committed relationship, your inherited conflict-resolution strategies meet your partner’s inherited conflict-resolution strategies. You may spend years figuring out how to develop productive conflict-resolution strategies together. Along the way, either or both of you may suffer a lack of trust and confidence that issues will be resolved fairly and equitably.
Establishing a mutual commitment to stick with issues until both of you are satisfied with the outcome creates a safe space to engage in disagreement cooperatively instead of as adversaries. I’m reminded of the lyrics to Prince’s If I Was Your Girlfriend
“If I was your one and only friend, would you run to me if somebody hurt you, even if that somebody was me? Yeah, sometimes I trip on how happy we could be.”
2. Create a Context for Physical Intimacy
Sex can serve many purposes in a relationship – from satisfying physical needs, to cultivating intimacy, and everything in-between. It can also be a barometer for the current temperature of the relationship. Are we connecting enough? If not, is there something going on? If we’re connecting plenty, does that mean everything is ok?
While sex may signal something about the health of the relationship, where we get into trouble is when we make assumptions about what it’s signaling, and then don’t talk about it. Checking in on the relationship is important, whether the sex is poppin’ or not. Further, establishing agreement about what sex means in the context of disagreement can be extremely powerful. Combined with a commitment to resolve issues, mutual agreement that sex does not equal conflict-resolution, can create a safe space for physical intimacy in the face of disagreement.
3. Listen to One Another
Genuine listening is often the casualty of impassioned emotions, especially when tensions are high. We can become so fixated on advancing our position and advocating for our own needs and perspectives, that we forget to really hear our partner. If pressed, we likely could not articulate our partner’s reasons or motivations for asserting their position. Genuine listening can speed the resolution of conflict, but also create greater understanding, and – yep, you guessed it – intimacy.
4. Understand Each Other’s Style
Do you process information verbally? Or are you a quiet thinker? Do you like to approach problems head on? Or do you prefer to conserve emotional energy? Each of us navigates the world differently. When tensions are high, we can interpret our partner’s natural tendencies as malicious or contrary. Understanding your style differences can create the capacity for compassion, patience, and cooperation.
Smart couples will set ground rules for arguments to keep confrontations in line. The goal in resolving differences is not to determine who’s right or wrong, but to come up with solutions that work for you both. Ground rules will make it easier for you to connect so you can reach that goal.
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5. Don’t Jump to Conclusions
Jumping to conclusions and making wrong assumptions will only escalate an argument. Rather than assume the worst, give your sweetie the benefit of the doubt. If you want to enjoy a happy and healthy union, start with the assumption that your partner loves you and wants what’s best for your relationship. You may not agree on how to achieve that “best” at the time, but positive assumptions will help you find solutions rather than place the blame.
Establish Solid Problem-Solving Strategies
6. Compromise Effectively
The (power) struggle is real. Though you and your partner love each other, you’re different people with different backgrounds and different approaches to the world. No matter how much you have in common, sometimes needs and desires don’t align. However, effective compromise is possible, and it doesn’t require sacrificing your needs. Distinguishing each other’s’ must-haves from your nice-to-haves can pave the way for creating win-win agreements.
7. Share Appreciations
Have you heard that it’s impossible to stay angry and genuinely smile at the same time? Well, gratitude has a similar effect. Reminding yourself of what you appreciate about your partner, sharing small appreciations with one another in the midst of conflict can create the space for cooperation. Darren Hardy in The Compound Effect, shared the impact a year of gratitude tracking had on the quality of his marriage.
My appreciation, gratitude, and intention to find the best in her was something I held in my heart and eyes each day. This caused me to show up differently in my marriage, which, of course, made her respond differently to me. Soon, I had even more things to write in my ThanksGiving journal!
It may be more challenging to remind yourself of or express small appreciations for your partner when you’re not seeing eye-to-eye, but is there a time when it’s more worth the effort than in those moments?
8. Hit the Pause Button
When you’re building a life together, not all conflict is able to be resolved in one conversation, or one day, or one week, even. Real life has a tendency to throw its fair share of curve balls, some of them quite significant. Sometimes it’s necessary to take a step back, re-examine, re-evaluate and re-assess before re-engaging. With a mutual commitment to resolving issues, it can be both fair and beneficial to hit the pause button. Agree upon a period of time to table the conversation. Reflect on your feelings, consider what you’re hearing from your partner, ponder new solutions before continuing the discussion.
Having solid problem-solving strategies will help you both build trust and confidence in your ability to resolve conflict in ways that are satisfying for both of you.
If you’ve been together for a while, you’ve undoubtedly weathered quite a few storms as a couple. That alone shows that you’re in it for the long haul. When faced with tense moments, it’s good to remind yourself that you’re part of a team committed to staying together in good times and in bad.
A satisfying relationship is worth fighting for regardless of how angry you may feel at the moment. Conflicts come and go, but your life will go on. If you keep conflicts in perspective, you’ll realize just how important it is to stay connected and cultivate intimacy rather than distance. Do all you can to protect your future.
Sometimes agreeing to disagree and dropping an issue will defuse a disagreement. Other times, you may need to compromise in order to find common ground. Look for areas you can agree on and work together to resolve personal differences in your life. Consider all sides of the equation and focus on what really counts.
By keeping mind, body and spirit connected, and the lines of communication open between you at all times, you’ll have a happier, more fulfilling relationship that can weather any storm and stand the test of time.