Conflict is awful, and we all find ways to cope with it. Many of us saw poor role models in our family of origin, and struggle to have healthy and productive conflict with our closest people. One of the reasons for this is that we have these inbuilt mechanisms for dealing with conflict that were absolutely the right thing to do when we developed them, but have usually outlived their usefulness. Yours are going to be individual to you, although there are some wide categories that you might find it helpful to consider.
- Attacking: blaming, criticizing, aggressive speech, belittling, accusing, imposing intentions
- Demanding: controlling, insisting, making excessive requests, and requiring attention, support, or caretaking
- Surrendering: giving up, giving in, complying, self-sacrifice, being passive or submissive
- Clinging: dependence, seeking attention and help with problems, seeking reassurance
- Withdrawal: silence, disconnection, stonewalling, or retreating emotionally, physically, and sexually
- Stimulation seeking: avoiding by seeking excitement and distraction through compulsive shopping, sex, gambling, risk taking, overworking, and so on
- Addictive self-soothing: avoiding by numbing with alcohol, drugs, food, TV, Internet, and so on
- Manipulating: threats to do or not do something, derailing, seduction, dishonesty, guilt-tripping
- Punishing: taking away, passive-aggressive procrastination, lateness, complaining
- Discounting: suggesting or asserting that the other person’s (or your own) needs are unimportant, minimizing, defending, explaining, justifying
(Taken from Acceptance & Commitment Therapy for Couples)
You might have some trouble working out what you do. It can be a challenge to honestly reflect on your behaviour and thought patterns when you are at your most stressed. It might be helpful to ask some of your closest people, especially ex-partners if you have a close relationship with any of them. It is rarely a good idea to ask a current partner when you are in the midst of a conflict-filled period.
It may be that different kinds of situations bring out different coping mechanisms for you, but it is likely that parts of at least one or two categories match you. For example, while I don’t typically attack other people, I do impose intentions upon close people when I am feeling distressed. I treat the meaning that I have attached to an action as the only possible meaning, and it feels to me like a fact. When I considered the list of coping behaviours, that was the one that I felt most impacted on my conflicts, despite the fact I also withdraw and disconnect at times.
I invite you to work out the coping behaviours that you default to. It can be helpful to list the coping behaviours and how they affect your conflicts. You might complete the following sentences:
My primary coping behaviour in conflict is:
When I do this it has the effect of: