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Look For The Overlap: How To Negotiate Differing Needs in Conflict

This week, 'Therapy Begins with T(ea)' steeps on the key to balancing your relational needs with those of your partner/friend/family/coworker & offers a body based check-in to practice identifying your upper and lower limits.

differing needs in conflict

Therapy Begins with T(ea) is a weekly newsletter based on the themes that come up in my sessions as a therapist & coach who specializes in conflict & attachment styles in romantic relationships, imposter syndrome, and our psychological relationships with money. Each week consists of a 'steep' in thought reflection, an accompanying body based check-in, and tea card intentions for the week to come. Its intended use is for educational purposes only and is not a replacement for individualized medical or mental health treatment.

'Steep' in Thought (3-5 min)

Less Yes/No, MORE Ranges

We’ve all had experiences where we’re not getting what we want (exactly how we want it) from the other person in a relationship. And it can be very frustrating -- but it’s also the trade-off that comes with being in an intimate relationship with a whole other multifaceted human being with their own experiences, comforts, and needs. So how do we navigate differing needs & wants? We stop looking at them as yes/nos and more as ranges.

look for the overlap

Take the simple & classic example of texting: you prefer more consistent communication than what you’re currently getting (maybe you get anxious when too much time goes by without a check-in). Viewing the texting tempo as a yes/no need only takes one person’s comfort into account (in this case, yours). This is where you can shift to a range based on the lowest amount of communication (your floor) and the highest amount of communication (your ceiling) you can realistically accept.

Then, you try taking a step towards each other to find an overlap, so that one person’s upper limit is above the other person’s lower limit.

This requires exploration on your end about what your need thresholds are & communication with the other person to learn what theirs are too. Then, when a conflict arises, you can check in: if the overlap is still in tact, then it’s on you to soothe some of your discomfort. If there isn’t an overlap, it’s a sign to have a conversation about it. Compatibility is as much about difference as it is similarity and it’s all about the overlap.

To practice shifting your mindset from yes/no wants to threshold ranges, try out this week’s full body check-in below.

Full Body Check-In (2-4 min)

Begin with the breath. A strong inhale in through the nose, a deeper exhale out through the mouth. On the next inhale, notice the sensation of the air coming in, where you feel it go in your body. Then release it, slowly, in a sigh. No need to count the breath; let your body decide for you. Just enjoy it.

When you’re ready, let a recent clash come to mind. An instance where you butt heads with another person or felt discomfort because it wasn’t going how you wanted it to (e.g. when on vacation, getting household tasks done in the week, texting, spending time together).

Take a breath and identify the want or the need that was feeling infringed on.

What are the upper and lower limits of that want/need for you? The ‘floor’ and the ‘ceiling’ of behavior that still meets that need and that you’re willing to do for the other person. Maybe that looks like, for example, a need for rest on vacation -- the upper limit (ideal) being all rest, no itinerary and the lower limit (what you can tolerate) being one day of rest for every day there’s a full itinerary. Take a few minutes and reflect. Visualize the bracket in your head.

Call upon this exercise some time this week when you’re in a disagreement. Use it as a way to step towards each other.

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