When we fight with our partner, sometimes we don't even know why. Sometimes we become so frustrated and sometimes we are walking on eggshells to avoid the argument. All of this is so common during, what we call, the power struggle phase. "I am so upset about everything from the way the dishwasher is filled to the way they blow their nose! I cannot even breath!"
Take a moment. BREATH. Give yourself a 20 minutes break from whatever is upsetting you. Then really try to understand what we so upsetting to you. Was is the lack of appreciation? Was it the lack connection?
Reach out for help to guide through this phase and find support. You do not have to struggle. Learn to listen and learn to share in a way in which you will be heard. The more practice you have, the easier it will be when it is an emotional time.
"They are so wrong, why can’t they just listen to me?” “I am so angry I might explode.” "Why do they always just do this? I’m so frustrated.” "I hate everything and everyone. If I just had 15 minutes, I would tell them off.” "I really just don’t even want to spend time with them anymore. They make everything miserable!”
Do any of these sound like you? We’ve all had these moments when we just want to explode. When our emotions get the best of us and we can’t even process the world around us.
It’s not your fault. It’s basic science. When something triggers us, we jump from our logical, thinking part of our brain to our emotional, reactive part. It happens in a millisecond.
Here is where it becomes our responsibility. While we want to yell or fight or maybe even just shut down and stonewall the enemy, this is not the best way to handle the situation. Believe it or not, while “this is just the way I am” is the easiest way to handle your emotions, it's not the most advantageous for you.
First, TAKE A BREAK! Seriously, excuse yourself for at least 20 minutes. That’s how long researchers suggest it will take your brain to move from that emotionally triggered place back to that logical thinking place. That doesn’t mean, sit somewhere brooding about what just happened. It means, take a break. Go do something that will take your mind off what just happened, like washing dishes or going for a walk or maybe read a book, even watching a funny tv show.
When you start to calm down, try writing about what happened. When you write about what happened try to stay in the “I feel…” perspective. Try to really grasp what it was that triggered you so much. Then explore what that means to you. Does it remind you of something else? How would you like to handle the situation in the future?
“I felt really hurt when Trish didn’t invite me to go get coffee. I feel like I always invite Trish with me. It makes me feel foolish for thinking we were closer friends than we were. I also feel forgotten about. I wonder if there was a reason Trish forgot to invite me. The story I tell myself is that Trish doesn’t like me as much as I thought. Maybe there is another story. Is there a way to ask Trish about this?”
“I’m feeling so frustrated by my partner because they didn’t put their dishes away. I cannot even count the number of times I have asked for this. I feel like it is so disrespectful because it does not take into consideration my time and my life. I feel less valued. I feel like my partner is saying that - he or she- is better than washing dishes, but I have to wash the dishes because my partner doesn’t. Therefore, I feel like my partner is saying that -he or she- is better than me.”
Great, we’ve written about how the situation makes us feel…Here’s the hard part -
LET’S TALK ABOUT IT.
Once the calm has returned to your mind, sometimes it just feels easier to try and forget the moment. Sure, maybe you’ve come to the realization that it really wasn’t that big of a deal. That’s great. But sometimes, we just want to avoid conflict and pretend something didn’t happen. Generally, this leads to resentment and more hurt and an even greater explosion later on.
Here are some pointers in talking about it.
Hopefully, this will be helpful during this stressful time. Always reach out for help or questions!
It’s date night again. Where are you going to go? What will you talk about? What happened that day at work? What happens the next day? The same old thing?
Let me offer a fun suggestion. Learn the Love Language of your partner. Love Languages are the way in which someone understands and absorbs love. Gary Chapman wrote about five different Love Language: Words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. For example, if quality time is your Love Language, you feel loved when your partner spends time with you going out somewhere or even just sitting on the couch.
More than just a casual date night once every week or so, understanding a Love Language allows you to learn more about your partner and how to honor him or her.
Often people find themselves frustrated that they aren’t connecting or that they aren’t loved. Gary Chapman explains that love can be kinda like a car. When someone communicates in your Love Language, your gas tank gets full. Visa Vera, when you have not experienced your love language, you feel empty.
Try out this quiz and find your love language.
Maybe you’ve felt your relationship has hit rock bottom or there is no love left. Give this book a try. It’s really easy and fun to read. It provides tips on how to respond to each love language. Create a simple a practice of participating in each other’s love language and revolutionize your relationship.
It’s a great way to explore each other, whether you’ve known someone for one month to ten years. Try it out on your next date night and make a fun game out of it. You won’t be disappointed by the results.
As I sit here recovering from the last argument with my husband, I'm reminded that fights are inevitable. I love my husband dearly and sometimes we just can't agree. That's ok! Before we got married we worked through The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John M. Gottman, Ph.D. and Nan Silver to "divorce-proof" our relationship.
Their work, in something they call "the marriage lab," discusses "four horsemen" that lead to the demise of relationships. They do not come in any particular order and just because these exist in your relationship right now does not mean that you will break up. The point is to become aware of their existence and shift the power of each horseman.
1. Criticism - Do you know the difference between a complaint and a criticism? How do you voice what you need from your partner? A complaint addresses a singular event or action with which you have a problem, as in "I'm really upset you didn't use a coaster because now there is a ring on our wood table." A criticism, however, attacks the core being of another person, even in something that may seem trivial and suddenly gains more significance than it deserves, as in "I'm really upset that you did not use a coaster. You are always so lazy! Now we have a ring on the wood table forever. Why don't you care? You never care about my things! We can never get nice things?"
2. Contempt - Contempt includes sarcasm, name calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, hostile humor, and cynicism. Contempt does not include repairs. Repairs occur in the middle of an argument when one partner tries to make the other laugh to relieve some of the stress of the situation. Contempt, on the other hand, tells your partner that you are disgusted with him or her, ultimately leading to more conflict rather than the possibility of resolution.
3. Defensiveness - Defensiveness usually arrives in response to an attacking partner. However, it does not achieve the desired effect since it unintentionally blames the partner for the problem--it doesn't end the conflict, it only increases it.
4. Stonewalling - When the listener tunes out and shuts down when the speaker is talking. In any conversation, the listener gives the cues on whether they were listening or paying attention. Usually, this horseman arrives after the other three become too overwhelming. When the listener starts stonewalling, not listening and not interested, leading to more conflict. Ultimately, it leads to more conflict.
When identifying the horsemen in your relationship, make it a game rather than an accusatory experience. Helping yourself notice these moments as much as you help your partner. Make a chart that helps both partners in the relationship identify when each of you let the horseman take over. Make sure you allow each partner to identify their own moments and honor them for making this acknowledgement.
I thoroughly recommend reading this book as it has helpful tips to promote and strengthen any relationship.
A blog about art therapy, EMDR, mindfulness, couples relationship, and anything else that might be an interesting thing to share.
Sara Hulan, MA, Marriage and Family Therapist Registered Associate IMF #97806,