Relationship Advice: How to Cope with Conflict and Stress

Relationship Advice: How to Cope with Conflict and Stress

Don’t rely on temporary fixes

A man and a woman are in the car coming home from dinner with their three-year-old asleep in the back seat. They get into an on-going discussion that goes in circles, getting them nowhere.

They both quickly become agitated because neither one feels heard by the other, and the more they try to work out the issue, the more hurt and angry each of them become. They arrive home and the husband goes upstairs to watch television to zone out and decompress.

After putting the child to bed, the wife goes into the kitchen. As she begins to wash the dishes, she gets angry,  thinking how “he still doesn’t get it” and “why won’t he simply come downstairs and talk to me?”

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She is very upset and so she grabs a bottle of wine and sits on the couch. After a half hour or so, she is feeling pretty good, absorbed in her movie and feeling the wine. Later she eats a full bag of chips.  The movie ends, the bottle of wine and bag of chips are both gone, and she makes her way to bed … no longer angry or upset with her husband.

The next morning, however, she gets upset with herself, thinking, “why did I do that?!” She feels horrible, a little hung over, and as if she ruined her weight loss diet. She begins to focus on all of her “shouldn’t haves …” for the night before, beating herself up internally. She later finds herself at the store, buying another expensive purse …

I describe this scenario to paint the picture of a pattern many women struggle with and continue to fall into when they cope with conflict. I will explain more simplistically.

First, she feels hurt, upset, and as if her partner doesn’t understand her. The “not so good feelings” she experiences are “negative emotions.” When she feels negative emotions, she rapidly does a behavior to eliminate the pain. While doing the behavior, such as drinking or eating, the pain isn’t as bad, she feels tipsy from the wine, or might even feel great while eating the delicious chips.

The problem here is that these coping behaviors are temporary. Later the next day, she feels terrible, guilty for drinking, hung-over, and ashamed for eating the chips. Continuing the pattern where she finds herself doing another behavior to eliminate the pain, such as shopping.  You don’t have to be trapped in this cycle. Take charge of your life and get pro-active.

Here are a few steps to break this draining and exhausting coping cycle:

  1. Avoid Triggering Events: Stay away from specific events that you might know may trigger your cycle. Or learn how to prevent a triggering event from arising, through steps like improving communication with your partner.
  2. Be aware of your Emotions and how you react: Start to check in with your emotions. See how you feel and sit with your emotions;don’t try to make them go away.Instead, embrace your emotions and get comfort from your partner or a friend, instead of getting comfort from a bottle of wine.how to cope with conflict destress
  3. Change your Coping Behavior to a Positive Behavior: Change the coping behavior to something that doesn’t leave a sense of regret, such as writing, walking, exercise, etc.
  4. Write down your negative thoughts and feelings: Write your thoughts out to release your pain. This allows you a place to feel the thoughts and be pro-active at the same time.
  5. Avoid Critical and Judgmental thoughts: If you did fall into the coping pattern, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, tell yourself you are okay and you made a mistake.
  6. Get Comfort and Support: The coping behavior is there because your body is saying that you don’t feel good. Get soothed and comforted by your partner, friends, and family. If your coping behavior has turned into an addiction, seek professional counseling or help.


About Jennine Estes, MFT

Think of me as your relationship consultant, I'm your neutral third party that can help you untangle the emotions and help you figure out what's really going on. I am a Marriage and Family Therapist in San Diego, CA. Certified in Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples. Supervisor. I write relationship and self growth advice for my column Relationships in the Raw. Creator of #BeingLOVEDIs campaign. MFC#47653