I suck at conflict resolution. I didn’t realize that until recently, though. I thought, because there was so little conflict in my marriage, in my relationship with Adam, and in my relationship with W, that that meant I was super good at resolving things in a healthy manner. Go me! And I believe I also thought the inverse of that: because there have been conflicts in my relationship with V, there’s something wrong with it.
But that’s not exactly true.
The truth is that (I have only recently come to realize) there were few conflicts in my previous long-term relationships because my way of “resolving” a potential conflict was to either, a) run away from it, or b) give in so there was no conflict. I knew I was conflict-averse. That’s a fact of being me: I go to any lengths to avoid conflicts. The realization was that avoiding all conflict isn’t necessarily healthy.
Since I’ve moved into this new phase of my life, post-W, much more independent, much less emotionally dependent on my significant others, I’ve made a commitment to better emotional/mental health. I resolved not to always give in, not to say “yes” every time, not to run away from the inevitable conflicts that arise in one’s life. And I am proud of the progress I’ve made.
However. There was a reason I avoided conflict. I don’t like to be in opposition to others. Confrontation throws my anxiety into high gear. My heart races, my palms sweat, I have a hard time enunciating clearly, or sometimes can’t think at all to speak. I read an article about this kind of personality recently. It was the author’s contention that those of us who react so severely to even mild confrontation have an out-of-whack “fight or flight” response. Our lizard brains see everything that is not “friendly” as hostile, as a threat. Some of us, like me, are unable to mitigate that reaction, at least at first.
So I have stood my ground a few times, and there have been some conflicts as a result. They are usually about scheduling, that bane of polyfolk the world round. It’s usually his wife’s and my schedule – her time with her other partner, my time with V – that is at the center of the conflict, with V in the middle trying to solve it in a way that works for all involved. But of course someone is going to end up not getting what they want, when those persons’ wants conflict.
On the one hand, I feel good about standing up for myself when I feel there is a need to; on the other, not knowing how to manage the feelings that conflict engenders in me – defensiveness, anxiety, anger, distrust, a feeling that I am being attacked – has made things worse at times; escalating things beyond what they should be.
I’ve been working really really hard to mitigate my fight-or-flight response. And I’ve succeeded in doing so, maybe not all the time, but much better than I had been. I can’t take all the credit, though. Viper has been instrumental in helping me gain control. It didn’t happen overnight though. I had to tell him what I needed from him to help me during those high-emotion times. I need him to sit on me (verbally/emotionally, not physically), to make me be still, to tell me when I am crossing a line. To call me out when my behavior is unacceptable.
I cringe a little when I write that. I am not a child. I don’t need someone to take me to task for my behavior! And I am not asking for him to treat me like a child. But this is one aspect of our D/s relationship – his authority, my submission to that authority – that has been key to helping me regain my focus when I am in the midst of a hurricane of out-of-control emotions. It doesn’t mean I’m wrong, it isn’t even about the issue itself, it’s about helping me – by using the very authority that I have consented to and need – to center and calm myself so that we can communicate in healthy ways. So that we can get to the “resolution” part of conflict resolution.