Too often our relationships seem not to warm us, but rather to push our "hot buttons." What's going on when this happens? Let's look at five reasons why we might experience conflict in our relationships:

1. We are not being authentic
2. We are listening to our inner voices instead of the other person
3. We are communicating in ways that trigger the other person's defenses
4. We are holding on to our own expectations instead of being open to where our spirit leads us
5. We are responding from fear instead of love

Instead of falling into one of these common sources of conflict, what might we do instead to experience more connection?

1) Reveal our authentic selves

Alfred Adler, noted psychologist, pointed out that children are excellent observers but terrible interpreters. As children, we observed our caregivers and drew conclusions about how to act in relationships. As adults, if those conclusions go unexamined, they become a "belief underneath," a rule we live by either consciously or unconsciously. To live by these beliefs, we put on "masks" either to reinforce a BLAMING belief ("I MUST please everyone" or "I SHOULD be independent") or to hide a SHAMING belief ("I CAN'T be good enough" or "I SHOULDN'T trust anyone"). When we wear a mask to interact with another person, we create resentment, experience conflict when another person doesn't change their "mask" to match our own, and lose the opportunity to be loved for who we are.

As a way to be curious about your beliefs, you might ask yourself: In my relationships, do I express my true feelings, or do I try to evoke an emotional reaction in the other person?

2) Listen to the other person, instead of our inner critic

Because an emotional trigger causes us to re-act from our past rather than experience the present, when we are in a heated conversation with another person, we often are listening to our inner critic instead of the other person. Most of us have a running commentary in our heads at all times, whether we're consciously aware of it or not. By simply observing these feelings and thoughts, we can learn a great deal about whether we're truly responding to our partner, or just to our inner critic. If you hear your inner dialogue using words like ALL, NONE, ALWAYS, NEVER, MUST, or SHOULD, you may be so involved shaming and blaming yourself that you don't hear what's really going on in the here-and-now.

As a way to question your inner critic, you might ask yourself: Is what I just thought ALWAYS true about myself or my partner, or is it only SOMETIMES true? Am I hearing what this person is saying right now?

3) Communicate in a manner that doesn't triggers defenses

Amy and Thomas Harris, transactional psychologists and authors of "I'm OK - You're OK," explain that we create conflict when we "hook another person's inner parent." When we use shaming and blaming words in our conversation with another person, we echo their inner critic and trigger the emotions that are linked with those criticisms inside the other person. Based on the model Kerry Patterson presents in "Crucial Conversations," here is a way to communicate that may trigger less inner criticism:

- Communicate your feelings in an "I feel…" statement.
- Share "just the facts" of the situation, including specific details
- Tentatively describe the conclusion you drew without stating it as an absolute.

As an example, can you find the shaming and blaming words in this statement, and the unquestioned conclusion drawn? "You never call me when you say you will! You should be more considerate. You just don't care about me!" Contrast that with this invitation to conversation: "On Wednesday, you told me you'd call me after you got home from work. Friday morning, we agreed to talk at lunch. I didn't hear from you either time. I feel hurt when I think about this because I tell myself that perhaps I am not important to you." By describing specific situations, sharing feelings honestly without blame or shame, and explaining your response as one possible conclusion, you can avoid triggering a defensive response and open the door to constructive communication.

4) Be open to possibility instead of holding on to expectations

When we expect a specific outcome -- being "in love," getting married, having a "romantic" experience -- we limit our possibilities. To hold an expectation, to say to the universe that we will only live "happily ever after" if things happen exactly as we plan them, means that any other outcome may lead to disappointment. Disappointment comes when we are trying to return to the past, or control the future. When we allow ourselves to live in the "now," to be present to what is happening, we can embrace each moment as it comes. If we trust that everything that happens to us happens for a reason, if we treat each experience as an opportunity to learn, grow, discover a "belief underneath," and become more authentically ourselves, we can allow ourselves to be delighted with any outcome.

5) Respond from Love instead of Fear

Fear limits us. Fear requires us to wear a mask. Fear keeps us locked into a "belief underneath." Fear leads us to try to blame or shame another person, so that we can avoid our own feelings, and avoid being vulnerable and open with another human being. Fear makes us either pine for the "good old days" or try to control the future, instead of taking delight in the moment. Fear keeps us from experiencing the Love that is the core of our true being. And Fear prevents us from seeing the Love at the core of another person.

What is love? To paraphrase an ancient and beautiful definition, "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in Fear but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."

To live in Love is to observe and acknowledge our self-criticisms, but not to believe them. To live in Love is to have compassion for ourselves and others. And to live in Love is to put aside heated words and find warm affection, to constructively handle conflict and through it find deeper connection. It might not be all hearts and flowers, but isn't it actually what we're really looking for?

Author's Bio: 

Suzanne Vachet is director of Inward Quest, an Indianapolis, Indiana organization providing workshops, seminars, and retreats for personal development and spiritual growth. Their mission statement: "We inspire you to hear your inner wisdom, encourage you to become aware of your conditioning and choices, and empower you to recognize your own value, so that you can experience peace, love, joy, and delight, and contribute to a conscious, cooperative community." To read more articles like this one, subscribe to their newsletter, "Tools for Technicolor Living," by visiting their website, http://iq.achievegrowth.org .