Why Taking Space Isn’t the Only Option For Cooling Off During a Fight

Many couples think that the best way to get through a conflict is to take space from each other to cool off. Unfortunately, taking space isn’t always an option. There are times when you need to make a quick decision, you’re stuck in the car together, or you are at an event where you can’t take space and staying connected is preferable.

The couples in my practice don’t often realize that the words they use with each other are magical. Just as words can aggravate and disconnect you from your partner, they can also calm an angry partner and help them feel connected to you again.

Do you know the magic words you can say to your partner that will calm them down and help them feel connected to you? Many people don’t know the words that they can say that will help their partner feel connected to them again, but those magic words are definitely worth figuring out with each other.

The words that can help us connect again don’t have to be complicated or long. Something simple like, “I don’t want to feel this way with you, I want to feel connected,” will often work or, “I want you to know how much I love you and care about you. Simply stating, “I want us to feel connected while we talk about this,” can go a long way in moving you back to love.

Speaking to what you want and how you want to be with your partner can often help you feel like you’re on the same team again. Try this exercise to help you translate your disconnection into what you want: love, connection, and

Exercise:

  1. Take a moment and think about the way you want to feel with your partner. Is it joyful? Or maybe sweet and loving?
  2. Ask yourself: how do you want to act toward your partner?
  3. Imagine getting into an argument with your partner. Then imagine that you turn toward your partner and say, “I don’t want to be this way with you, I want to be _______. What would it take for us to get back on track again?”

Alternatively:

  1. Find a time to sit down with your partner and talk.
  2. Ask your partner what they would like to hear that would help them defuse an argument.
  3. See if you can come up with a code word that means you are waiving a white flag of truce. From there discuss what you might be able to say that would help you connect with each other again.

It’s Not About the Content

Content versus connection

Oftentimes when I’m working with clients, their central concern is a desire to discuss issues about work, money, children, or their sex life: aka content

What couples often don’t understand is that it is very difficult to talk about any kind of content if you are not connected to each other. Trying to talk about important issues while you’re feeling defended or angry leads to fighting, and the content gets lost.

The trick to getting through content together is managing the connection you have with your partner. As soon as you realize that you are disconnecting, try to pause and re-establish how you want to be feeling with each other. I’ve found that this is best done by naming how you want to feel and have your partner feel, not how you don’t want to feel. Securely attached partners know how to get themselves and their partner back to connection when they are feeling disconnected.

Sometimes simply holding hands and looking into each other’s eyes without talking for one minute can actually reset your connection. Research has shown that looking into your loved one’s eyes can help release oxytocin (the “love hormone”) which can help you feel more connected, calm, and in love.

 

Exercise: Self-Inquiry

If you find yourself often fighting with your partner around certain content, try this mindfulness exercise:

Sit quietly and check in with yourself:

  • How connected are you feeling with your partner right now on a scale of one to ten, with one feeling not connected at all and ten feeling totally connected?
  • What is the content that you were trying to discuss with each other?
  • What creates connection with you and your partner?
  • Is physical touch something that brings you together?
  • Do you like snuggling with each other on the couch or in bed?
  • Does talking about your day hope you feel connected?
  • Do you laugh together about certain topics, and does that laughter help you connect? What about sharing an extracurricular activity?
  • What words could your partner say to you that would help you relax and feel more open?

Exercise: With Your Partner

 Find a time to chat with your partner about re-establishing connection when you are talking about touchy subjects and feel out of synch. Don’t try to talk to your partner about this while you’re already disconnected and angry, or in the middle of a fight! Find a time when you’re both calm, connected, and on the same team.

Once you are sitting together, discuss how to create connection instead of talking about the content. Here are some questions to answer:

  1. What can you say that helps your partner feel connected to you? What words or phrases help you want to open up to each other?
  2. Does physical touch help when you’re talking about charged topics?
  3. When was the last time you felt really connected to each other? What was happening in that situation that helped you to feel connected?
  4. Are there activities that you engage in together that help you feel connected? How do you want to feel when you’re talking about these topics together?

 

How Curiosity can Save Your Relationship

couples-counseling-oaklandWhen your relationship is in strife it can feel like the world is falling apart.  We can feel even more alone, hopeless and seperate than when we are single.   However, when relationships are going well they can be the thing that bolster our lives and help us be our greatest selves.

 

Couplescounselingoaklandca

The Dynamic:

There is a common dynamic that I see over and over again in relationships.  It’s where one partner (Let’s call them “the Frustrated One”) starts lecturing or talking to the other partner (Let’s call them “the Impatient Listener”) in a critical and sometimes patronizing tone.

It happens all of the time.  And I understand the frustration that creates this dynamic.  Maybe you’ve asked your partner a dozen times to do something, and they don’t do it.  Or you just don’t understand why they can’t do something, it seems so basic, such a simple thing to do, something a child would know.  So the frustration leaks out.  And sometimes it actually works; with voicing your frustration, the person actually responds for a while.  The Impatient Listener wants you to not be upset and so they agree to do the things you want them to do.  Except that it didn’t actually work because a few weeks later it’s back to the normal behavior again.  The Impatient Listener didn’t really want to do those things, or they agreed because they felt like a child in trouble and they wanted the angry parental tone to stop.

This argumentative pattern is really destructive in relationships.  And you don’t have to keep repeating it.  

How do you stop? Well, if you find yourself more in the Frustrated role, try speaking to your frustration rather than to what you are trying to change in your partner.

couple-arguing-oakland-ca-smaller1) Name What is Happening:

Begin with a statement like “I notice myself getting really frustrated about the chores and I’m not sure how to change things.”  Or “I notice we keep fighting about this same issue and I would really like to not fight about it.”  

When you name what is happening, you step outside of the intensity of the moment.  You engage your cerebral cortex and move out of the fight/flight/freeze mode.

2) Curiosity Can Save You:

Then ask some questions, get curious about what is happening with your partner.  Questions like “what kinds of systems do you think we could put in place to support this issue?”  “What are you experiencing around this?”, “what is your history of dealing with this kind of issue?”

Getting curious about your partner’s experience rather than assuming you think you know what’s happening can be a huge way of disengaging an unhealthy pattern.

Let’s say that you are more commonly in the role of the Impatient Listener.  

1) Name What is Happening:

Again, try naming the dynamic that you see playing out.  Try saying “I would really like to hear what you have to say but I’m having a hard time getting past the tone you are speaking in” or “I see that you are really frustrated, and I would like for this to not create friction between us.”

happy_couple_Oakaland_Ca2) Then get curious: 

“What’s going on underneath your hurt about this particular issue? What is hard for you about it?”  Again, curiosity is one of the most empowering tools for a couple.  Curiosity also creates a little bit of a gap between what’s happening and your experience.  It helps you witness the situation from a slightly wider perspective.

Naming a dynamic and getting curious about it can totally shift how you experience a situation in relationship.  Rather than being the actors in a play, you become part of the audience that gets to witness and respond to what is happening.

Want to learn more? Contact Sefora to sign up for a free introductory counseling session.