How Relationship Challenges Offer Us an Opportunity to Heal

Written by: Sarah Kolman RN, MA, CHPN, INHC

For me, October was a month filled with juicy learning from relationship challenges. It has not been all that pleasant, but, I must admit, I have gratitude for the growth and insight that have resulted.

This month I have had conflict with loved ones, moments of disconnect with my spouse, and filling like a monster mommy with my kids. I kept asking myself, “What is up with you and your relationships. What is this pattern telling you?”  I thought I'd share a few insights from the month of pondering the interconnected nature of relationships and health. 

“Pain that is not transformed is transmitted “ Richard Rohr

Over the month, I have felt frustrated, angry, embarrassed, and insecure about some physical ailments that I am trying to understand and heal. 

At times I could acknowledge my emotional turmoil and give myself a pep talk or just watch the emotions come and go. Many times, however, I just reacted to my charged emotions by withdrawing from people and friends, snapping at my poor husband, or showing my kids only the faintest amount of tolerance and patience by regularly coming unglued at them. I also watched myself turn to junky comfort foods as a way to momentarily feel better--and to connect with something. Unknowingly, when I couldn’t handle my own pain, suffering, difficult emotions, I threw my junk onto the ones I love the most.

You can imagine, all of those reactive behaviors made me feel even worse. I hated the way I was talking to my husband and my kids, I regretted that I wasn’t engaged in friendships to the extent that I value, and I certainly knew that what I was eating was not helping any mood, hormone, or blood sugar balances (that I knew would be most supportive to my body). It all made me more stressed and frustrated…keeping me stuck in the cyclical pattern of feeling difficult emotions and reactively transmitting my pain onto others. This pattern only made my physical symptoms worse and caused me to feel more disconnected from myself and those I love. 

One thing I started doing to stop the viscious cycle was talking to my family and friends about my struggles. This was vulnerable for me and it took courage for me to share what I was thinking and feeling. Doing this helped them understand and support me better and we ended up having many moments of connection through authentic and vulnerable sharing. The more I shared my inner world the more connected I was to my outer world. The more connected I was to both my inner and outer world the less fierce and reactive I was in my relationships. 

Conflict is an inevitable part of relationships and it is an opportunity to strengthen connections.

A friend and I had been dancing around awkward disconnect for a few months before a particular interaction this month released an explosion of emotions that were being tightly held within each of us. The unexpected interaction left me upset about the conversation and insecure about the unknown of our relationship. In the heat of my emotions, I was paralyzed and all I could think to do was to walk away and abandon the conversation, and my friend.

We both initiated a “redo” and we were able to come together and more skillfully talk to each other about feelings and thoughts that needed to be shared. My friend shared her experience for a good 10 minutes while I only sat and listened. I then shared my experience over a similar amount of time while my friend just sat and listened. We didn’t interrupt to defend or set the other straight. We showed up authentically and vulnerably and actually sat and listened to each other. We not only resolved the conflict but also left each other feeling a renewed connection and deeper appreciation for one another.

It is hard to want to address disconnect and difficult interactions. I know this—as passive aggression and attempting to ignore are my unhealthy coping patterns. What a shame when I let myself settle for unresolved conflict when I am being given the opportunity to strengthen relationships.

I took a“Community” class in my graduate program at Naropa and one of the main lessons I learned from the class was that conflict is an inevitable part of community and the healthiest communities and relationships are those that use conflict resolution as a way to strengthen and deepen relationships. Conflict offers a priceless opportunity to learn about self and others—to grow personally and in relationship.

Humans are hard wired to connect. Humans want to connect. It is our nature and our deepest desire. When we are not connected in our relationships, we experience anxiety. When we experience anxiety, we can be irritable, defensive, short- tempered, depressed, paranoid, etc. Everyone ends up suffering.

I am so relieved that I am waving October good-bye with resolution and deep connection in my relationships. As I take care of my relationships and health in a new way, my physical body is noticing the benefits. I look forward to thriving and learning new life lessons in November.