For the past week I have been seeing clients and friends struggle with re-connecting after an argument. In 60 seconds flat things can go from calm to being in the thick of it, and boom! You are in the midst of a big blowout, it’s 2am and you find this argument going around and around in circles, (and all you want to do is get off this merry-go-round and go to the heck to sleep.)
Or, you could be the married couple that walks around the huge elephant in the room, not even acknowledging what exactly what led to the breakdown in communication, and hide in your corners until the coast is clear and everything commences as if nothing happened (although both are still salty underneath.) We can become so polarized and attached to our positions that often people are fighting to win their case or defend themselves, instead of trying to understand what’s happening for our partner and regulate our own responses.
So if you find yourself and your partner in this whirlwind, here are some instructions on how to get your relationship right after a fight as I find these tools to be helpful for my clients:
This exercise is a guide for processing and evaluating a fight or any discussion of an issue that did not go well. The goal is to increase understanding between the two of you without falling back into the disagreement. The belief here is that there is no absolute “reality” in a disagreement but rather there are two “subjective realities”. This form is designed to help you get at these two realities and to ease similar situations in the future.
Step one: Feelings
Each of you is to take turns describing what you were feeling during the disagreement. You may either chose from the list below or come up with your own description. Remember to keep your comments simple and keep to the format “I felt…..:”, avoiding statements such as, “I felt like you…..”
- I felt defensive.
- I felt listened to.
- My feelings got hurt.
- I felt understood.
- I felt angry.
- I felt sad.
- I felt happy.
- I felt misunderstood.
- I felt criticized.
- I didn’t take my partner’s complaints personally.
- I felt like my partner didn’t even like me.
- I felt cared for.
- I was worried.
- I felt afraid.
- I felt safe.
- I was relaxed.
- I felt I was right and my partner was wrong.
- I felt that both of us were partly right.
- I felt out of control.
- I felt in control.
- I felt righteously indignant.
- I felt we were both morally justified in our views.
- I felt unfairly picked on.
- I felt appreciated.
- I felt unappreciated.
- I felt unattractive.
- I felt attractive.
- I was morally outraged.
- I felt taken for granted.
- I didn’t feel taken for granted.
- I felt like leaving.
- I felt like staying and talking this through.
- I was overwhelmed with emotion.
- I felt calm.
- I felt powerful.
- I felt powerless.
- I felt I had no influence.
- I felt I could be persuasive.
- I felt like my opinions didn’t even matter.
- There was a lot of give and take.
- I had no feelings at all.
- I had no idea what I was feeling.
- I felt lonely.
- I felt alienated.
Step two: Share your subjective realities
Summarize your own reality about the disagreement. What was the reality for you? What triggered you? Remember no blaming the other person, be accountable for your feelings.
Step three: Find something in his/her story that you can understand
Now, try and see how your partner’s subjective reality might make sense, given your partner’s perspective. Tell your partner about one piece of his/her reality which makes sense to you.
Step four: Are you flooded?
Check and see if either of you is flooded with emotions. If so, take a breath, a 15 minute break and during your time by yourself take the opportunity to do something that calms you down, whether its music, reading this article (wink, wink!), watching tv or looking for some funny videos on You tube. Then go back to your partner and reconvene the discussion.
Step five: Admitting your own role
It is essential that each of you take some responsibility for what happened. See if anything from the list below applies to your situation.
- I have been very stressed and irritable lately.
- I have not expressed much appreciation toward my spouse lately.
- I have taken my spouse for granted.
- I have been overly sensitive lately.
- I have been overly critical lately.
- I have not shared very much of my inner world.
- I have not been emotionally available.
- I have been turning away from my partner.
- I have been getting easily upset.
- I have been depressed lately.
- I would say that I have a chip on my shoulder lately.
- I have not been very affectionate.
- I have not made time for good things between us.
- I have not been a very good listener.
- I have not asked for what I need.
- I have been feeling a bit like a martyr.
- I have needed to be alone.
- I have not wanted to take care of anybody.
Add your own.
Overall, my contribution to this fight was: (please be introspective and honest y’all)
Step six: Making it better in the future
- What is one thing your spouse could do differently next time?
- What is one thing you could do differently next time?
(Citation: Exercise Aftermath of a Fight By Dr. John Gottman, PhD)
Marissa’s “Oh Hell No’s” Of An Argument
- Please lets keep in mind people that as always, pay attention to your tone of voice, it’s about WHAT you say AND how you say it.
- No cursing or profanity at your partner, use your words (and not the bad ones, you can just think them in your head and keep them to yourself 🙂
- No hitting below the belt. That means no digs about how your partner is a bad parent, not masculine/feminine enough, or any other comment that is demeaning emotionally, morally or sexually.
- Keep your hands to yourself. No putting your finger in the others face, pushing, shoving, grabbing, slapping etc. You are already in a heightened emotional state and everyone needs their personal space so be respectful.
When you find yourself ready to continue making the re-connection after conflict, here is a way to apologize, not the “I’m sorry you feel that way” which could be interpreted as dismissive. Have your “I’m sorry” be received as heartfelt and meaningful moving forward:
Six elements of a complete apology:
1. I care about your feelings.
2. Your hurt is warranted and I understand where you’re coming from.
3. Did hurt your feelings by reacting with (anger, yelling, crying, shutting down..)
4. Feel (sad, ashamed, sorry) for doing that to you or treating you this way
5. Want to help you through this, I am accountable for saying, reacting etc.
6. Even though I know you are upset, I would like to show you that I care and want to reconnect with you. What do you need from me in order for this to happen. (Holding hands, hug, take a 10 minute break and come back, etc.
Whew, hope this was comprehensive enough to help you navigate your next fight. Use these tips when you need to so you can get through the bumpy ride into feeling understood, connected and back on track in married bliss!
Want to have a happier, healthier marriage?
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
More by Marissa Nelson