dating · polyamory

Resolving Relationship Conflict and Emotional Processing


I was in a discussion recently about resolving conflict in relationships through honest communication. One of them mentioned two things that I think are pretty normal in relationships, the first was having a hard time with patience while waiting for loved ones to connect with and articulate their feelings and also how much resolution is enough?

It really comes down to based on life, are your expectations for communication and resolution realistically going to be met? Having patience while your loved one connects with and articulates their feelings basically means how much time it takes from when you

bring up a topic and you get a solid response other than “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure”.  For example my partner and I process feelings very differently. I process them outward, I work through how I’m feeling by talking to people. I can process things fairly quickly because he can bring something up and I can work through them right away. My partner processes his inward so he waits until he has alone time to work through how he’s feeling about something, then talks to me about it. Realistically we both work a lot he might not have alone time for a few days or week. And since he needs his alone time to recharge in general finding alone time to emotionally process is harder to find. So for us I know that I have to give him time and he knows to wait until he has the energy for me to talk his face off before bringing something up. Depending on the topic at hand it might take a few days to be able to really talk about it and reach an agreement, understanding or resolution. Neither way is right or wrong, it’s like a digestive system people digest the same foods differently because everyone’s bodies are different.

  It is important to know your partner and respect their process. Trust that your partner is on your team. I’m not saying I have it all figured out, knowing that about my boyfriend doesn’t stop my emotional brain from being emotional. I start to get cranky and weird if we keep a conflict open for too long. Even if we have both literally been working too much to even be in the same room. My anxiety gets going, I start to feel like he doesn’t love me or care, I start questioning my life, what I ate for dinner, etc. I know I put some silly examples in there but when your in the middle of this waiting period you can get confused, then you come out of it 15 minutes or a few days later after talking to your partner and some of your thoughts feel silly, like yeah my dinner was a great choice that day after all. These running thoughts aren’t a fault of your partners, these are your’s to own. If this waiting time is unbearable talk to your partner about it. That’s why I think resolving conflict is a mix of getting needs met and whats realistic. How much resolution do you need to feel like a problem has been resolved? That’s really personal. What are your needs in the situation? Is it possible for them to be met? How possible? For example if the issue is you need more acts of affection, like your partner running you a bath, cooking for you, giving you a back massage. Your need is the acts of affection, you have addressed with your partner that you feel it is lacking. Now you need to be honest with yourself, how much time and/or energy does your partner have to meet these needs. If I told that to my partner the reality of our situation would be we both work full time, he works about 60 hours or more a week and I am a busy little social butterfly. We see each other some week nights and some weekend mornings. We are both tired. If I was feeling he was lacking in these areas, based on that reality how much more often and what kinds of things would I need? And could he realistically provide them? If my need was every time I see him (not judging anyone’s love styles, lets just use it as an example) I need an act of being doted on but that’s not realistic to our lives, based on limited time and energy. I would need to be honest with myself again, can I accept that? Is what’s available going to fill my needs? That right there is going to be your answer to how much resolution you will need. Sometimes you will need to accept there is no way to fix it. If there’s not time and energy for being doted on every time we spend time together, we either together acknowledge it’s a need that I have, form an understanding that this need cannot be met right now, or my partner agrees to put more effort into these gestures, or we resolve that this need is too great and we can’t see each other anymore. I know the idea of these gestures everyday might seem overzealous, it’s not personally my need but it’s not my job to judge what your needs in a relationship are. This is for you yourself and your partner to work out.

The other person in our discussion, Rachel Setzer (read more below), brought up the concept of an emotional bank account “where actions, words that build trust and intimacy are deposits and things that tear that down are withdrawls.” In the case of where you are questioning the relationship over the conflict “it’s still up to you to decide when an account gets closed but it’s easier to decide when to do that if you look at the balance of the relationship as a whole. The reason relationships last is that more is done to build it up than tear it down.” She goes on to talk about having a trust account with yourself. I believe this is fundamental for having a healthy relationship. Your partner is not responsible for your insecurities or actions. The list that I called silly earlier where I am freaking out a little bit because my partner is taking too long to process is my insecurities showing. I’m afraid my partners lack of immediate response means he doesn’t care about my needs, I know where this comes from. I don’t think it’s right for me to take that out on him. Based on our relationship trust account I know he cares. Based on my own personal trust account I know that I trust my ability to know when my feelings aren’t being cared for.

Unfortunately there won’t always be a resolution to every issue that you are ok with. What happens then is up to you. Evaluate your trust accounts, be honest with yourself and your partner.

Rachel Setzer is a Seattle local feminist artist, illustrator, activist, pug parent and fellow lovely poly. Check her out:
Setzer Studio Arts Blog
FibroShark Community – FibroShark gives a weird & adorable face to chronic illness, and exists to help promote self-advocacy.