Managing Crisis and Conflict: First Steps
Whether you are working on strengthening your relationship or considering separation or in the process of divorce, managing your conflict and anger is always the first and most important action you can take.
If you are in a crisis!
Many of you are currently experiencing a crisis in your relationship! Just as if you were to discover a fire in your kitchen, your first action would to put it out and control the damage it is doing. The same goes for conflict and crisis.
Here are some of the reasons you and/or your partner and relationship may be in a crisis:
- You have just discovered or have been told that your partner is having an affair or you have cause to suspect this is happening.
- You have just been told that your partner may not love you anymore.
- You have been told that your partner loves you but doesn’t like you very much.
- You have been told that your partner wants a separation or a divorce.
- You have decided that you want a separation or divorce and know it will create a major crisis as soon as you disclose this to your partner.
- You and your partner have just had a devastating argument where horrible and mean angry things were said.
- You have just become aware of how unhappy and lonely you are because of the silence or ongoing fighting in your relationship and now feel you must do something.
- You have developed feelings for someone else or are having an affair. You may feel somewhat out of control and are having difficulty handling your conflicted emotions and behavior and fear the conflict this will produce for your family.
- Either your partner or you are engaged in problematic substance use/abuse/addiction (alcohol, drugs, sex, food, gambling etc.) and feel it has reached an all time high and you must do something.
- You are in a financial crisis.
- You have an in-law crisis.
- You are in an abusive relationship and have decided you have had enough
- You or your partner is experiencing violent and/or suicidal thoughts and feelings. These may be directed at oneself, your partner, the children, or another, ie. the person with whom one of you is having an affair, etc.
- Your child/teenager/adult child etc. is having a crisis and you as parents are locked in a disagreement over how to deal with it.
- Your blended family is in conflict over how your partner relates and wants to discipline your child or children. You loyalty is torn between your child and partner!
- You are realizing that the relationship you have started is not working for you and feel helpless on what to do.
The list can go on and on…depending on how you and your partner perceive and feel about your unique situation.
You may feel like you are at the end of your rope and there are no options! You obsess over how you will survive the consequences of what is happening! You may feel intense anger, betrayal, abandonment, rejection, shame, guilt, loss of control, fear and anxiety, depression, hopelessness and helplessness, pain and hurt, overwhelmed, want to run away, etc. just to name a few of the feelings that come with a crisis.
Most people do come through their crisis and actually learn something, although at the time of your crisis your perspective is so narrowed you do not think this is possible. The intensity of your feelings, often fear and anxiety, drain and diminish your capacity to think as your emotional self (that little scared kid within you) reacts. Often that reaction is what you have learned as a child and comes automatically to try and protect you and cope.
What you can do
First off, if your situation is an emergency and/or dangerous to you or your family, the local or state police are often the fastest to react. Call 911! Others may warn you, “not to or we can handle this ourselves.” But use your own judgment and have this as an option.
Most communities have emergency mental health services, battered women hotlines, or your local hospital has an emergency department you can call or go directly to.
Now obviously if you discover your partner is having an affair or wants a separation or divorce, you will not call 911 unless this pushes you or your partner to the point of self harm or other violence. When there is a crisis, what happens to your physical and emotional self is that your breathing becomes shallow as you desperately try to calm down your anxiety and fear. So breathe! Take deep belly breaths or breathe into a paper bag so you can regulate the air in your lungs and body. Thinking and judgment are often heavily affected during a crisis. As you breathe and attempt to calm yourself, you will improve your ability to think. Your body and emotions are just doing what they are equipped to do…mobilizing you to fight, run or shut down and freeze.
You may be struggling to calm yourself down but all you can think and obsess about are the worst scenarios. Remember your thinking can be very distorted and focused on your anger, pain, hurt, rejection, shame or guilt… Telling yourself things like: “I can get through this!”; “I can soothe my wounded, hurt feelings!”; “I can cope!”; “This will pass”; “I can get support from my friends, family, counselor etc.”; You may think you are alone but there is help and support available.
Throughout my Audio Course on How to Structure and Manage a Separation I talk about developing your “inner nurturer” or Nurturing Parent. People that need to develop a stronger self nurturer as well as an improved capacity to think may be overly dependent on a partner. The threat of loss can trigger intense rejection, abandonment, hurt, anger, and a desperate need to reconnect with that partner. However, if your partner is pulling away right now, you may push him or her further away by being too needy and dependent. Plus you may continue to reopen your wounds each time you are rejected. This could be your opportunity to build your self survival and resilience. I talk about developing coping strategies for your SELF throughout the course.
If you are involved in intense and aggressive arguing or fighting with your partner, you can call “Time Out.” (Rules for Time Out, page 16, Taking Space) Take physical space away from him or her. Go to another room. Take a walk around your home or outside. Be careful not to drive if you are emotionally unstable at the time. Many accidents occur when people are stressed and not focused.
If a partner won’t leave you alone and follows you when you attempt to get space, this often means more physical space may be necessary until feelings and behavior can be managed better. Consider your options for more temporary physical space. (friends, family, motel, etc.)
The next thing I highly suggest is to contact someone you can talk to. Reach out to family, friends, a counselor, your minister, priest or rabbi etc. – anybody that you think will aid you in this crisis. There are several crisis hotlines that you could also call if you feel you have nobody presently that you can turn to. Many of these resources will remain confidential. This is not a time to be proud. These are people trained to listen, be sensitive, and help you think. This is a time to reach out and borrow someone else’s support, thinking, comfort and words of wisdom. People that do not reach out to someone at this point only have their own limited, narrowed and distorted thinking about what to do. Having someone to talk to can be lifesaving and prevent you from taking some drastic action to ease your pain. Your pain will pass even though you may not believe it now.
Medications may help you calm your fear and anxiety, and should be considered if you are struggling. I suggest medications when someone feels like they are losing control of themselves and capacity to function and cope with you, your family and children, work etc. Sleep is often the first thing affected as our minds go round and round with worry after worry just like that hamster in his cage going in circles. Again your physician or the local clinic or hospital emergency room can assess this with you. Taking medication to ease your pain and help you relax and sleep is very different from someone who is in so much pain they want to end their life. I have spoken to hundreds of suicidal people who simply wanted to ease their pain and hurt, and not die or kill themselves. At a time of crisis, judgment may be so impaired that an impulsive action is all you can think of at the time. Even though you may not realize it at the time, your children, friends and family will all be heavily affected by the actions you take.
You can learn to reduce the intensity of your feelings… they will pass!
Remember you can learn to manage your feelings and get through the pain of your crisis! You can think! Reach out to someone. In a crisis you can temporarily borrow someone else’s thinking as well as their support, until yours is restored.
I offer a relaxation-meditation CD that could help you calm down and learn to relax. It may not change the facts of your situation, but will help you deal with those facts from a more relaxed thoughtful place of self caring.
Taking Space – How to Use Separation to Explore the Future of Your Relationship
Available in paperback and ebook editions
Audio Course: How to Structure and Manage a Separation: Steps 1 & 2
Available for download or in CDs