The Mindful Response to Relationship Conflict

Is each action and interaction of your day executed with purpose and intention? Most likely not. We are constantly working on auto-pilot as most of us are overscheduled and overworked. We find ourselves making to-do lists while brushing our teeth and becoming consumed with work details in the shower without even noticing where our mind has gone.

While this mindlessness may be harmless while brushing your teeth, it can become problematic in your intimate relationships, particularly in times of conflict.

More often than not, we react from a surface emotion without understanding it, knowing where it is coming from and without taking a moment to pause. That surface emotion typically is anger. However, if we look at the anger iceberg, we see that anger is a secondary emotion, with primary emotions, such as hurt, embarrassment, rejection, fear, etc lying below the surface.


When we are not making a conscious decision about responding to our partner, the impact of our words and actions tends to stray from our intention.

For this reason, it is important to cultivate self-awareness and an ability to identify emotions. While self-awareness can be cultivated in many ways (self-reflection, journaling, therapy, music), mindfulness skills can also greatly benefit this process.

When we practice mindfulness, we are essentially learning to notice when our mind has wandered off over and over again. When we are able to notice that our mind is not in the present moment, we can become more aware of what is actually occurring right here and now. This here and now experience enables us to become more attuned to what’s happening inside of us, rather than continuing to react mindlessly and carry on in autopilot.

Mindful Awareness:

–       Physical sensations

–       Emotions

–       Thoughts and mental activity

By tracking and identifying thoughts, feelings and emotions as they arise in the moment, you can use them as signals or a stop sign to PAUSE.

Why is the pause so crucial?

1. Gives you the opportunity to become present and check in with yourself

–       What primary emotion am I experiencing?

–       What am I being triggered by?

–       Am I being triggered by what’s actually happening in this moment?

2. Interrupts the knee-jerk reaction pattern

–       Allows you time and space to make a conscious decision about how you would like to respond, or what kind of impact you’d like your response to have

Again, mindfulness is a practice and not a quick fix. As you become more aware of your present experience and more empathic with yourself, your ability to be attuned and empathic with your partner grows as well.

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