As a paralyzingly and emotionally analytical human, I’ve always struggled with conflict. It just doesn’t come naturally to me, and it’s something that I want to be better at—especially in my close relationships. In past relationships, I’ve tended to shy away from talking about my feelings, or “stirring the pot,” for fear of my partner’s reactions. So I’d withhold my truths instead of risking a potentially uncomfortable conversation, which ultimately led me to deprioritize my own needs. And THAT led to me feeling disconnected from my partner. Funnily enough, avoiding those tough conversations in the interest of keeping the peace was actually a relationship poison in itself.
That’s why voicing my needs and truths at the risk of conflict is something I’m actively working on and learning more about. One of the tools I’ve turned to is an inspiring book written by Gay and Kathleen Hendricks. Conscious Loving has introduced me to a healthier, more enlightened way of approaching relationships. And it’s taught me incredible lessons about how I can not just overcome conflict, but move beyond it. So let’s talk about what the term “conscious loving” even means.
According to the book, conscious loving is essentially an awareness destination in which we’ve been able to move beyond our past programming from childhood and past relationships into a place where we can show up as whole, complete humans. And from here, we can work toward loving relationships free of distrust, disharmony, and unspoken words. The authors of this book have studied thousands of couples and started down this “conscious loving” path after asking one really compelling question: why are close relationships, which are supposed to be about love, often so painful?
Ultimately, their research came down to identifying co-dependent patterns and then defining a healthier place to be—which they called co-commitment. So what’s the difference? Co-dependence is an agreement between two people to stay locked in unconscious patterns. Co-commitment, on the other hand, is an agreement to become more conscious together. I’m going to share four tools covered in the book that have helped me in my journey to co-commitment and beyond conflict. So let’s jump in…
1. Learn to Feel
The first tool I’m sharing is “Learn to Feel.” In order to get to a place where we can speak our truths versus reacting in conflict, we have to learn how to feel. And this is all about what’s going on inside of us—and something that very few of us grew up learning how to do. In many homes, emotions aren’t things that are often talked through, which can make it hard not to get carried away by them when we find ourselves in situations of conflict, leading us to want to shut down. This is the first step toward releasing ourselves from the grip of a feeling.
When we’re feeling really big things, it really helps to take a second to breathe and identify them as physical responses within our bodies rather than thinking of them as a part of us. And understanding what we’re feeling is huge in conflict, because we’re then able to communicate those feelings to our partner. It’s humanizing to say something like “I felt really sad when you said that” versus a response that’s more combative or reactionary. The authors of the book recommend giving ourselves a lifetime to master the art of learning to feel.
2. Communicate Your Truth
This second tool is something else we learn against when we’re young. When we were little, if we said certain things, we might get into trouble or get laughed at. Maybe somewhere along the way, we learned to bottle up our truths. Many of us aren’t in the habit of talking about what we’re feeling. So once we learn how to feel, how do we communicate that in a productive way? How do we communicate our truths?
Well, it first helps to understand what a truth is, and the book defines it as “that which absolutely cannot be argued about.” It’s likely to be a clear statement of feeling, a body sensation, or something you actually did. It could be things like, “I’m scared,” or “I’m sad I didn’t tell you earlier.” Those are truths. The book states that telling your truth just to communicate your internal experience is the only intention that is freeing. When two people learn how to tell this microscopic truth and take full responsibility for their feelings, power struggles end and growth is more free to happen.
3. Claim Your Creativity
This lesson of the book blew my mind the most. To me, and according to the book, “claiming your creativity” is the most important component of the journey to co-commitment and beyond conflict. And it’s not the kind of creativity that we practice at redpepper.
Rather, claiming creativity is “the act of taking 100% responsibility for creating things the way they are. Claiming creativity is when you switch from being a victim to being the source of what is happening to you. Claiming creativity is when you drop a power struggle with someone and take full responsibility for a problem, regardless of whether the other person takes responsibility for it.”
So co-dependence would look like two people fighting over who’s responsible. Co-commitment would be two people agreeing that each is 100% responsible. This reaction of finding someone else to blame is also conditioned in us from childhood. A lot of times, instead of working through the problem, it’s easy to get caught up in this “who dunnit” argument. The book says that acknowledging responsibility is a risk because responsibility carriers power—but it also says there’s no power in victimhood. In relationships, when one person claims creation, there’s a radical power shift. And the hope is, of course, that the other person will claim it, too.
4. Create Space for New Solutions
This is the last little piece of magic that I’ll leave you with (you’ll have to read the book for more). So many cyclical conflicts come from getting stuck in our programs, thinking that we know the way out. But by asking questions, we let go of thinking that we know all the answers…we open up space in which a new solution is allowed to emerge. The book offers seven questions that we can ask in these moments to help resolve conflict as it’s happening. Things like:
- How do I feel?
- What do I want?
- How is the past coloring my present?
- What am I getting out of staying stuck?
- What do I need to say?
- What agreements have I broken?
- How can I be of service?
It’s important to remember that the power of these questions lies not so much in the answer, but in the state of consciousness these questions help open up within us and between us. The sincere curiosity creates space where a new solution is allowed to emerge, helping us move beyond our programming and beyond conflict. It’s my hope that we can all grow forth more consciously and more peacefully with these tools in our belt—not by projecting responsibility onto others, but rather by inquiring into the source of the conflict within ourselves.