Recovering From Conflict

Happy Valentine’s Day! Here’s some good news from research on couples.

Couples therapy often focuses on how couples fight. New research indicates that how couples recover from arguments is just as important. Researchers at the University of Minnesota were studying conflict in couples when they noticed that some couples could have intense arguments and then make a clean transition to chatting about something they agreed on. Other couples got stuck and could not move past the conflict.

Because researchers have been following this group of people since birth, they were able to look back at other information they had previously gathered about the couplesThey found people whose caregivers were able to help them regulate their emotions as infants did a better job of regulating negative emotions right after a conflict.

Couples who recovered from conflict well were more satisfied with their relationships and had a more positive outlook about the relationship. Interestingly, only one partner has to recover well. The health and balance of the relationship can be salvaged if one person disengages from and argument and avoids dwelling on negative thoughts and emotions. As it turns out, if your partner recovers well, you reap the benefit.

Researchers also looked at what couples were doing after a stressful discussion. Some of the happy discussions involved reminiscing about happy enjoyable times they shared together.

In addition to talking about positive things, couples’ recovery was related to conversation flow. Flow is like being in the zone. Flow requires being present, responding to bids for connection, and letting go of anxiety about how things will turn out. These couples were not talking about how they felt about the relationship. Rather it was a mutual process that included how the other person felt about the relationship.

Tips for Relationship Recovery

  • Avoid letting the argument spill over to other aspects of your relationship such as parenting or providing support to each other. Disagreement in one area does not generalize to the rest of your relationship. Do something nice for your partner. It is important to continue to build happy memories, even if you disagree.
  • Take steps toward reconciliation not drama. Focus on areas of agreement. Healthy conflict can be worked out with time. With drama, the problem feels too big and out of perspective.
  • Accept where your partner is at this moment without trying to change his or her mind. It takes time to move toward mutual solutions. Respect each others timing.
  • Pay attention to your feelings and reactions to situations. We all have characteristic reactions to emotional discomfort. Knowing our reactions helps assess the situation more accurately.
  • Make it easy for your partner to talk with you. Appreciate and delight in your differences. Honest, loving communication can bring you great happiness and will make for a peaceful and satisfying relationship.
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Fibromyalgia pain and cognition

Many people with fibromyalgia are plagued with “fibro fog.” A recent study comparing fibromyalgia patients with healthy individuals found that pain was the primary factor leading to poor cognitive performance. Results from this study indicate the level of pain affects mental processing more than other previously considered factors such as depression, anxiety, lack of sleep, or medication.

These findings emphasize the importance of helping clients reduce pain levels. Pain gets our attention. As pain persists, the brain may be shifting its activity to pain rather than to focusing on mental tasks.

Other studies have found that chronic pain affects the brain. MRI studies show that for people with chronic pain, a frontal region of the brain most associated with emotions is constantly active. The affected areas fail to “shut off” when they should, disturbing the balance of the brain.

Medications can provide relief. However, when the drug wears off, pain returns. Researchers of this study highlighted cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as a method for improving coping and reducing pain sensations. CBT may be especially helpful for improving cognitive functioning of patients with fibromyalgia by changing thoughts and behaviors related to pain and improving coping strategies.

However, people who are already having problems with memory and concentration may have a harder time recognizing thought patterns and completing homework activities that reinforce learning.

Neurotherapy is another non-medication approach to reducing pain. This state of the art technique trains the brain to function more efficiently. Neurotherapy helps people learn to increase brain functioning, such as memory, emotion regulation, and learning. Conversely, they can also decrease unwanted side effects of imbalances in the brain such as pain, depression, anxiety,  and insomnia.

A combined approach of neurotherapy and CBT may allow for faster progress by starting with less pain and improved brain functioning to learn, remember, and integrate new thoughts and behaviors.

Would you like more information about managing chronic pain, neurotherapy, or CBT? Return to or call me at 404-409-2245.

Katie Rhodes, Ph.D., LCSW

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