Here’s an example to illustrate the need for looking at both intention and impact in relationship conflict.
In Step 2 of Anatomy of an Argument, we look at avoiding a judgmental attitude when fighting with your partner. Step 2 is integral to Step 5 - offering assurance.
When you offer up assurance, the goal is to communicate to your partner that you are doing your best to keep an open mind. For lots of folks out there, this is insanely difficult because they think their way is just fine, no problem. The other person feels strongly about their position. You each have to figure out how to come to terms with the other’s place when neither of you are wrong but you still have a hard time tolerating the other’s perspective.
For example, my husband and I are polar opposites when it comes to privacy vs sharing on certain issues. I like to get counsel from friends and colleagues, he’s not into me doing this. He actually has a brilliant mind. But to my dissatisfaction, his mind instantly jumps to all the potential risks involved. I don’t mind risk, he craves certainty. This is an ongoing struggle. We typically come out of these arguments ok and with a better understanding of the other person and usually with a lot of sympathy going back and forth between us. But man it’s like clawing my way out of a hole sometimes.
When all's said and done and I have regained my emotional balance, I actually do see his point of view. I don’t like it, I don’t think like he does, but I accept that this is the way he is / has always been / most likely won’t ever change. Neither will I. Our task is to continually strive to let the other person just be and to learn to cope with our differences in more meaningful ways. It’s a never ending journey. Make it count.
When we are arguing with a spouse, in the heat of the moment it’s so hard to do anything but concentrate on OUR needs and the outcome WE want. That needs to change ASAP. In step three of the Anatomy of an Argument series, we learn to identify the underlying needs, values and worries of our mate.
When we assume that our partner’s reasons for wanting something a certain way are stupid or make no sense, we aren’t making room in the argument for the possibility that they actually have valid concerns or worries. If your partner’s reasons aren’t making any logical sense to you, take a step back and get curious, ask questions. Ask if there is a fear that they haven’t disclosed. Ask if there is an influence behind their argument that is steering them in one direction.
You also need to get clear on your underlying needs, values and worries. Don’t just put up a fight because you think you are more right or that your way is best. Remember that most often you two just have a difference in opinion. If you two can come together to discover each other’s needs, you will be solidly more empathic towards one another.
A few years ago my husband and I got into an argument because I said something to his mother that he asked me not to. It was a complete accident, I forgot that he had made that request (which at the time I thought was so stupid!!!) So by the end of the argument, he was finally able to explain to me that I had actually shamed him. EWWWW, that felt terrible to me. The clearer you can be from the get-go, the better.
When you find yourself in a fight with your partner, put on your Sherlock Holmes hat and start digging around. You will be far more productive if you can help each other figure out the underlying needs, values and worries. I would love to hear if any of you can conjure up some stories from your own life where you didn’t do this. What happened and what do you wish you had done differently? Please share!
Today a client asked me if I have ever dealt with “something this bad” in my practice. Her marriage is in a shambles in ways that frankly are hard to imagine. To her, it’s worse than any horror movie. I told her that I’ve never seen her exact situation, but I’ve had all the pain in the world in my practice from different clients in too many situations to count. So the question is not about judging the extent of the “badness”. The question is have I ever seen this much pain. The answer will always be “yes”.
Part of her question asks about a “degree of pain marker” to be put on situations. The first time I realized I couldn’t put a measurement on the degree of emotional pain was when my son was in the NICU for three and a half months. He was born three and a half months early. I would get comments that people could relate because their child was born 4 weeks early. I came to the conclusion that if your worst event in your whole life was your child being 4 weeks early and it scared the living shit out of you, then who am I to say mine was worse? We were equally scared shitless.
Don’t compare your pain or life situation to anything else. You pain is your pain no matter what anybody else thinks. If your partner does or says things that are belittling and mean according to you, then they are belittling and mean. I have clients from the east coast who can talk to each other in ways that would make my mid-west clients lose their mind. The point is that if you have a feeling or an emotion or a pain, it’s real and it’s ok.
The other point is that yes, you can move beyond it if you want, but you don’t have to. If what happened is the straw that broke the camel’s back, then it’s broken. If you want to try everything and anything to repair it, then let’s go for it. Just don’t feel like you have to do what all your friends say because they don’t think your pain or your situation is that bad. Your wound might not be big to them, but to you, your heart has been ripped out. Pay attention to your feelings, to your grief and to your needs.
I have seen pain, I have felt sad and hurt. I am here to help you get through what ever level of “bad” you are experiencing. Call and make an appointment today.
"I know something needs to change. I've brought up counseling to my partner but they don't want to go. I think we need it, but they aren't budging."
Sound familiar? If this if you, you're not alone. I hear this from clients (and friends) a lot. It's a tough place to be in and may bring up a number of thoughts and feelings in you when you need couples therapy but you're partner is not on board. You may give up, bury feelings of sadness, fear, and resentment only have those feelings come out sideways at a later time. You may try to argue, coerce, threaten, or pester. You may even be passive aggressive. Unfortunately all these strategies are effective in making things worse, but not effective in making your relationship better or getting your partner to therapy. They may even reinforce your partner's idea that this is your problem and push them farther away from agreeing to work on their own part in all this.
"Yikes, that is NOT what I want!"
I know! My suggestion: take the advice of Gandhi to "be the change you wish to see in the world" and do couples counseling for one.
"But, Erika," you say, "if I go to therapy, the terrorists win! That's not fair. My partner needs to do this with me too."
Maybe. In a perfect world, you wouldn't couples therapy need it in the first place. But are you willing to give up or burn up the relationship because it’s not fair!?!
So, while you'd prefer for your partner to join, is that always imperative in order to create positive change in your relationship?? Maybe not. Here's some points to ponder...
- You are ultimately the only one you can change. The Serenity prayer says "grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." You can’t change your partner, but you can change you and individual therapy can help with that.
- In systems theory, changing one part of the system can promote change the whole system. If you’ve been stressed, chances are you’ve been operating at a suboptimal level in your relationship. It’s possible the poor communication and bad habits of your partner are a reaction to some of your poor communication and bad habits. When you change you, it’s possible some of those negative feedback loops can change too.
- When you are working on you, you are in a better position to suggest the other person be working and changing too. When they see that therapy isn’t horrible, it isn’t about blaming, and that it’s promoting change that benefits both partners, some people are more open to going themselves.
- Waiting until both people agree to get help often means both people are in crisis, both have been severely hurt. Both are, simultaneously, more desperate for change and more deeply stuck. And then people wonder why therapy doesn’t feel helpful. The deeper you dig that pain pit, the longer it takes to crawl out of it...even with help.
For more info about how to create change in your relationship, contact us today. We're here to help.
In our series about the anatomy of an argument, we have discussed focusing on your own reactions and avoiding a judgmental attitude. Here is step three:
Finding the understandable part of your partner’s argument can be difficult, especially when you are entrenched in your position. ‘Find the understandable part’ does not mean agreeing with their view or accepting it as the right one. It simply means that each of you have legitimate reason for your beliefs.
Here’s a little example. My husband and I were having a discussion over a new car I was about to lease. I can’t even remember the whole fight, and it was a doozy, but the part that I will never forget it this: at the end of the argument he revealed that he had felt shamed over a certain action I had taken. The action was telling his mom something I had promised not to but I thought it was so insignificant that I totally forgot, it was an accident. The argument ended as soon as I understood what had happened for him.
Don’t let yourself dig your heels in so deep that you refuse to acknowledge the other’s experience. This will get you nowhere. You need to find reasons for their actions and beliefs and they need to do the same for you. This is a 50/50 deal on both sides.
Consider these scenarios:
- A terrible day at work, so she comes home already upset
- Not all pertinent information was given so details are left out
- One person thinks a word has one meaning and the other thinks something completely different
- His mind went to the worst case scenario inventing things you never meant or said
- The issue is likely to be more important to one of you - sometimes it’s nice to give in if you don’t care that much
- Our priorities often differ, so try to keep in mind what is important to one won’t be so important to the other
- Perhaps one of you had felt belittled or dismissed recently
Next time an argument with your partner arises, do your very best to find the understandable part. Get out of your own way and really look at their point of view and ask yourself if they are truly wrong. If you loosen up on these issues, your partner is likely to do the same! Feel free to respond with situations of your own and what you did to work through them with Step 3 in mind!
We first looked into fighting with your spouse or partner effectively and focusing on your own reactions. Here is step two of the anatomy of an argument:
Do you try to be open minded and flexible when you are at odds with your partner? Research has shown that those people who are able to remain flexible are more successful at getting their partners to treat them the way they feel they deserve to be treated.
Most often when we find ourselves in an argument we have competing agendas. When we find ourselves in this position, we typically end up making the other person “wrong” in one way or another. A silly example is driving… which lane do you prefer, what speed, what route? How many of you have been driving and get criticized one way or the other? Odds are you aren’t doing anything wrong, it is just different from your mate.
Do your best not to jump to negative conclusions regarding your partner. Instead, it is best to get curious about why they acted they way they did or said what they did. Automatically assuming the worst is an invitation for your partner to become instantly defensive and angry. If you want your mate to meet you in the middle, this is a skill you need to master.
Happy couples will get curious before they get defensive. Next time you find yourself in grid-lock, ask yourself if the other’s actions / beliefs / opinions are really wrong, or just legitimately different than yours. This is where constructive compromise happens so both parties feel heard and understood.
Please call me and I will give you all the knowledge I have on fighting fair. I help couples navigate arguments daily, let me help you, too.
We ALL fall short. We know we are doing it, and sometimes we just don’t care. So when one of you has one of those days, it’s up to the other person to bring their A game. It’s also important to realize why fighting matters. We will worry about the repair part later when you can apologize and really mean it.
People who think that they will never fight in a relationship are, quite frankly, delusional. In my opinion, if you are in one of those relationships, then you either aren’t being honest about things that bother you or you are sweeping things under the rug and pushing problems aside.
In my many years of couples and marriage counseling, and being in my own 17 year relationship, I KNOW fighting is healthy. In some of my best fights with my husband, we have had our best conversations and realizations.
Here are some reasons fighting with your spouse or significant other is important:
- Anger sets a line in the sand, a boundary, telling the other person they have just crossed over. Anger as an emotion isn’t bad. Your boundaries show the other person what you are willing to put up with to a point and then it’s a game changer. If you don’t set up boundaries, people will walk right over your line without knowing or respecting it.
- Fighting appropriately let’s you stand up for yourself and get your point across when the other person may not have realized your goals or intentions. Don’t rob the other person of the chance to understanding your position.
- People exist differently in the world. Do not make the other person wrong just because you disagree. We all need to learn that difference does not = wrong, it equals different! It’s not OK to pout or be hurt because your partner has a different view.
Obviously, these are just a few examples. There are many more how and why to fight fair. If you want to know how to fight without making the other person wrong, without attacking their character, without being defensive or critical, then call me so I can give you the exact tools you need.
My couples therapy practice is based on over 40 years of scientifically validated research from the top minds in the field. If you want to know what works, I have it and want to share it all. Let’s get started today!
“Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness. And the word happy would lose it’s meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better take things as they come with patience and equanimity.” –Carl Jung on Equanimity
Equanimity, or achieving mental or emotional stability or composure, especially under tension or strain; similar to the idea of acceptance, equanimity is accepting the “good” with the “bad” without judgement.
“But Erika, I don’t like the “bad””
Totally get it. And…like it or not, “bad” happens. Bad days, bad moods, bad fights, bad bosses, bad drivers, bad sleep… “Bad” will always happen to everyone.
Since “bad” is unavoidable, you’re left with having to choose how you handle the inevitable.
You can fight it or judge it or deny it. You can numb it with addiction to sex, food, work or drugs. You can ignore it and wonder why your sleep sucks, you’re irritable, your sex life is suffering, or you can’t concentrate. You can blame it for your lack of fulfillment, peace, or happiness. You can hide out, micromanage your life, spin your wheels trying to perfect yourself to avoid it. All of these have an impact on you, your relationships, and sometimes your community.
Or you can learn to tolerate it with equanimity (notice I didn’t say “like”, “agree with”, or “allow to continue”).
“Ugh…ok. Maybe I could try this equanimity, but how?”
Glad you asked.
Here are 8 steps to equanimity:
Set your intention to practice. Life will provide opportunities to practice and setting an intention keeps your eyes open to those opportunities.
Notice attempts to avoid or fight or judge the “bad”
Breathe deeply…it will calm you down and create space to try new skills
Acknowledge the “bad” and that you don’t like it
Breathe again. This is hard stuff
Remind yourself that you’re practicing equanimity and it’s possible that you can accept this “bad”
If you’re feeling bold and sassy, try to assign meaning to the “bad” (some suggestions: “I can learn from this”, “I can find gratitude in this”, “I can connect during this”, “I can relate to others better by experiencing this”, “I can be more present in my life by acknowledging this”)
Rinse and repeat steps 1-7 as needed.
When you are having a tough time, take a seat and try these steps. Set aside some time right now or later today and see how much better you feel. Then do it again the next time you need it. Try it daily – you might just love it!
You might think that holding your tongue during an argument serves you well. It might, if you are truly able to let whatever is being said slide off your back and not sweep it under the rug. For most of us, holding our tongue means something along the lines of “I am going to remember this and bring it up again as ammunition to use against you later!”
For others, not saying anything is a sign that they have difficulty standing up for themselves. Often this means that the one being silent thinks the other person is controlling and then they end up blaming them somehow. Staying silent won’t make whatever “it” is go away. It will just build up until you explode in anger or in some other fashion.
In couples counseling, I often see clients who after years of being silent can’t hold it in any longer. The relationship is on the brink of collapse.
Given the right tools and the formula for how to effectively stand up for themselves, couples learn how to develop the emotional habits that enable them to stand up for themselves without attacking or blaming the other person. They learn that what used to turn into a meltdown can actually turn into a productive conversation. It’s so empowering to rise up and flourish instead of fade away during arguments.
Standing up for yourself doesn’t have to be an ugly mess that turns into a showdown with guns loaded. Getting the right tools is essential for learning how to fight fair and stand up for yourself.
One of the first tools for effectively standing up for yourself is being able to focus on your own reactions by emotionally regulating yourself. If you let what the other person says trigger the hell out of you, chances are the guns will come out. Being able to regulate yourself is critical. You need to learn to breath, stay grounded and focus on what YOU are saying.
There are many tools to help you along the way. Would you like to learn more? If you would like to learn how to stand up for yourself effectively, please give me a call. I would love to hear how you regulate yourself, and please share in the comments section!
Here’s to learning how to fight fair!
Are you considering couples counseling for yourself and your partner? Looking for help is the first step. Here are 20 reasons to consider couples counseling:
You keep thinking to yourself that you and your spouse / partner aren’t communicating well. I give you the EXACT couples counseling exercises and techniques you need in order to express yourself effectively.
You keep having the same arguments over and over. In couples counseling, we will figure out what habits are sabotaging your efforts and why you aren’t getting your needs met.
You can’t remember what the arguing was about in the first place. It started as a complaint about a dirty table and ended up about how you feel totally disrespected! In this part of couples therapy, we will uncover what your underlying needs are and how you are contributing to the cycle of fighting.
You can’t figure out how to phrase something so that the other person can actually hear it, you don’t feel heard. If this is during an argument, it is likely that you are trying to persuade your partner that you are right. In couples therapy we will explore why this hardly ever works and tell you what you need to do instead.
You feel like you walk on egg shells all the time. Couples therapy will help you stand up for yourself effectively while not putting the other person down so they can have an open mind about your point of view.
You are constantly wondering if you are living up to their expectations. You don’t have to live up to their expectations! Those expectations belong to them, not you.
You feel like a crappy mom / wife / husband – so much guilt around not being good enough. We will explore why you are good enough right now and how you can feel even better. You ARE enough.
You are wondering where the passion went! This is retrievable, you have to make the time and commitment! You need to plan, to pay attention and to be active in your relationship. I will also give you homework assignments to help with the awkwardness!
You are having better conversations with friends and coworkers than your spouse / partner. Couples counseling shows you how to reignite that spark and to avoid the temptation of doing it with somebody else.
You are avoiding going home because home is actually lonely even though somebody else is in the house. I will show you how to gently reintroduce conversation into the relationship that is completely gentle and reengaging – oh and it’s fun.
You need to figure out how to have boundaries in your relationship. Don’t be a doormat and let people walk all over you!
You feel bad about getting angry. Anger sets a boundary – couples counseling will show you why this emotion is KEY!
Baggage! We all have it. Couples therapy will show you how to unpack that baggage and leave it in the dust.
Only 25% of couples know how to fight fair. Most of us, 75%, are royally screwing this up and were never given the tools we need. Couples therapy with me will show you the 12 skills you need to join the ranks of the successful couples.
There are 4 nails in the coffin for relationships. Defensiveness, contempt, criticism and stonewalling…but one is the deadliest. Couples counseling will show you how to avoid these relationship killers and give you the antidotes.
Most couples don’t realize that their nervous systems are soothed in often opposite ways. What makes one person feel good brings out anxiety in the other. Couples counseling gives you ways to maintain emotional stability when those anxiety producing moments pop up.
We often feel we’re made to be wrong in situations when our partners don’t agree with us. We aren’t wrong, we just have a different viewpoint. Couples counseling shows you how to react effectively when you feel blamed or when your partner believes you are more to blame.
Affairs – this is a biggie. Yes – you can move beyond it. Yes – you can heal from it.
There are 9 emotional habits that will never serve you in a relationship. With over 40 years of research from the top minds in the field, I will show you the 9 habits that you need to say bye-bye to and which habits you want to embrace.
Couples therapy can be FUN! Sure there are tough times, but let’s get you back to the place you want to be and to bring the joy back into your relationship. I give homework and readings to every couple I work with. These are fun, ego-boosting assignments meant to exercise and build your emotional muscle.
If any of these reasons sound like a good idea to you to consider couple counseling, please call me to set up a first appointment. Couples counseling and relationship therapy should never be a scary or blaming place. With me, it is a place to gather all the tools and skills you need to be a member of that 25% that does it right. Anybody can join that group! Let’s talk today!
“Your scars are beautiful”
I have couples do weekly homework assignments. They don’t take long and they are fun. I explain to couples that just like going to the gym to build up biceps, reconnection doesn’t happen after one visit. To build the emotional muscles in your brain, you need to exercise them consistently. Here’s one of the coolest / loveliest / most darling responses to one of the questions asked that I have ever heard.
The statement to reply to is… “I am physically attracted to my partner. Name one physical attribute you are attracted to.”
He said “I am attracted to so many things about you. But the things I am most attracted to are your scars. Your scars are beautiful. I know what each of them means, I know what how each of them happened.” These scars – some are small, some are pretty visible – like the one where the tracheotomy was in her neck – have a very intense story behind them. What could be painful and awkward for her became powerful and intensely meaningful for each of them. It’s a connection that only they have.
The smallest questions lead to profound answers neither one could ever guess would actually be spoken or written. Couples therapy isn’t just about clearing the current crisis, it’s about reaching down deep to those astonishing and lovely insights.
I haven’t met a couple yet where AWESOME answers weren’t a part of the process. If you or your spouse / partner want to uncover some of these touching insights, please get in touch with me and let’s get to work. And yes, even my really angry couples have those moments where the walls begin to come down after going through these exercises. EVERYBODY has hope and potential.
At Colorado Couples and Family Therapy, we have use many different resources and couples counseling techniques to aid you in your therapy journey. We are looking forward to working with you! Contact us today.