Many people are seeking ways to be more present in their lives: meditation, mindfulness, yoga . . . and all are helpful. But what about during heated conversations with your partner? Do you know how to be present during those times? In this article I’ll share specific methods that are simple, yet powerful.
When we engage in conflict, or interactions that are tense, our level of consciousness decreases. As we descend into a lower level of consciousness, which I call “safety-consciousness,” we find it harder to stay present because we are preoccupied defending ourselves.
When defending ourselves, our survival circuits become activated and we are prone to fight, freeze or flee. And if we are in conflict with someone we love, our attachment circuits— our desire to connect—may also be activated. When both are active at the same time we experience what’s referred to as a biological paradox. Our attachment circuits encourage us to move toward the other person while our survival circuits encourage us to move away. This is fertile ground for confusion, double messages, and hurting people we love or feeling hurt by them.
If we could learn to be present in such situations, then our tension level will decrease and our survival circuits will calm down. What follows are some steps that help us do just that.
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Return to now
When we are in conflict with another person, because our survival circuits are active, we tend to talk about the past. We do this as a way to justify our feelings and point of view. We build a case for ourselves and the case is based on history. We also tend to project into the future, sometimes threatening the other person with consequences of what will happen if they don’t change. Or, at other times we try to cajole the other person with promises that things will be okay tomorrow. None of these unconscious tactics are helpful.
Instead, I encourage you to talk about what’s happening now—in this moment. Stop justifying your position. Stop building your case. Stop threatening or cajoling. Instead, ask for what you want right now, in this moment. Or, ask the other person, “What do you want from me right now, in this moment, that would be helpful?” Usually they’ll say things like, “I want you to listen to me.” Or, “I want you to apologize.” Or, “I want to know you care.” And if we give the other person what they want, right now, in this moment, we will break the cycle of conflict and fear.
I know this sounds simple, and it is, and it’s also the most powerful way I know to bring myself and the other person into the present moment. As we come into the present moment we relax our fears and anxieties that are born out of our pasts and hallucinated futures. It is in the present moment that our attachment circuits thrive and we experience meaningful connections.
There are two other methods that help us stay present during times of conflict. I will mention them briefly, and if you want more information you can go read the full article.
Stop telling stories
Story telling takes us away from the present moment. Story telling serves many purposes, but in the midst of a conflict, stories are usually told as a way to justify our feelings and make our point.
Often, our stories aren’t helpful. Instead of telling stories, ask for what you want, right now, in a direct way, or ask the other person what they want, right now.
Learn to be present with your discomfort
During times of conflict we often experience negative feelings that we don’t like. We resist being in the present moment because we don’t want to experience our feelings. To escape our feelings we project, blame, obfuscate, and repress. All of these actions make it harder to connect—with ourselves and with the other person.
The solution is learning an effective way to connect with our feelings, and a mature way to express them. And this is our responsibility, not the other person’s. Often, during conflict, we blame the other person for our feelings, which makes us less likely to take responsibility for ourselves.
To learn more about all of the above, I invite you to read the full article.