In a world full of objects, we know that if one of our possessions goes wrong or breaks, we can simply identify the problem, intervene, replace it or fix it.
We identify the cause of the problem by observing the effect of the breakage and tracing it back. Often when something goes wrong, with a general reset or a reformatting of the software we can restart things even better than before.
So why is this so difficult to do in relationships?
The problem is that when an interpersonal relationship is ruined, once it has happened and it just seems too difficult to fix. In our minds, we tell ourselves that we can’t change the past, we can’t go back and fix things in the past, it just can’t be done.
At the time the relationship breakdown happens, we can try to forgive ourselves and admit some responsibility. But because we know that we cannot change the past, only the present and the future, we tell our conscience and our emotions that what has happened, happened and nothing will ever be able to erase it.
So what should we do when we meet conflict in our relationships? Is there an antidote?
The only possible thing we can do is to take action in the present, by truly living the moment that the negative event is occurring (whether it is verbal aggression, a personal insult or attack, an attack on our work).
Here are some important actions to take, in order to fix what has happened before it is too late.
- Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
- Recognise the cause of their behaviour and not just the effect: “If you are talking to me in this way, I am somehow responsible for this”.
- Manage your emotions carefully, before they trigger unintended reactions.
- Ask yourself about the meaning of their behaviour: what wounds or misunderstandings or discomfort led them to say and do those things? What stress or pressure are they under that you don’t know about? What conflict are they experiencing while talking to you?
- Wait, take your time and pause: don’t try to intervene and resolve the situation too quickly, because you risk increasing their aggression. Give them time to speak.
- Formulate possible solutions, try to think of at least three for each problem.
These are the best treatments we can apply in the moment that an attack strikes us, preventing things escalating from wounds to indelible scars and finally to ancient history and a point of no return. These are the only possible remedies since we cannot go back in time.