Marriage Advise – 4 Steps to End the Fighting and Reconnect With Your Spouse

I’ve seen it again and again in my work as a therapist. When couples get into a cycle of fighting, it can be hard for them to even remember that they love each other as time goes on. You know you’re caught in a cycle of fighting when the pain created during fights lingers on — long after the arguing and blow-up is over. You experience a build-up of one hurt or frustration piling on top of another…and another…and another. Eventually, your emotions are so overwhelming that your sense of yourself pretty much gets lost in the whole mess. Sometimes you may feel so dismissed or angry that you aren’t even sure there IS a relationship, anymore. And you may feel there’s no turning back. But most of the time there is!

Four Steps to End the Fighting and Reconnect with your Spouse

If you know what to do, you can take “real” steps to end the fighting and turn your relationship around. These steps have worked for many couples to get their relationships back on track — and they can work for you, too.

Step 1: Recognize when you’ve been “triggered.”

Being triggered means your emotions and their intensity go from 0 to 100 within milliseconds. So, what this hard, critically important first step means is: When you start to get upset — stop! Take a moment to step back and ask yourself, “Where did these awful feelings come from that seem to welled up inside of me so quickly? Was it really what my partner said or did?”

When you stop yourself and recognize the trigger that is revving up your intense reactions, you’ll be able to create some emotional separation between how you “feel” and the reality of what actually happened. This also gives you the chance to figure out why you were triggered in the first place. Chances are, you’ll see that what’s going on has less to do with your partner than it probably “feels” like.

There are typically two ways to recognize a trigger:

a. Shift in Emotion

Try to notice when you feel an emotional shift. This is the point in the fight when you go from feeling OK to suddenly feeling distant, enraged, withdrawn, teary eyed, etc. What did your partner do or say or not do or say that led you to feel betrayed, stupid, ashamed, inadequate, like a failure, like you’re nothing, or…(you fill in the blank).

b. Intensity of Emotion

Pay attention to your reactions. Are they stronger than usual? Or, more intense than what the situation warrants? For instance, instead of just feeling disappointed, are you feeling betrayed or abandoned? Rather than just feeling frustrated, are you feeling inadequate or like a failure?

If you feel any of these emotions (keep in mind, there are many others, as well), it’s important to realize that this is NOT THE FIRST TIME you’ve felt these feelings with this kind of intensity. These feelings did NOT originate with your partner. They were created long before you ever met your partner; he or she is just stirring them up in the moment.

Step 2: To put things into perspective

When you’re angry and overwhelmed by your emotions, your actual thinking processes can get overwhelmed and distorted, too. Do you really believe your partner is deliberately trying to hurt you? (No, I mean really…do you really think he or she is the kind of person that wants to see you hurting…is that the kind of person you’re with?)

When you answer this question honestly, it allows you to separate who you feel your partner is when you’re in the heat of an argument from who your partner really is. It is extremely unlikely that you truly believe your partner wishes you ill or wants to see you hurting. And you can be absolutely sure that it’s no different when you fight. Your partner isn’t out to intentionally hurt you. What you’re really feeling has more to do with what the feelings triggered inside you.

Step 3: Look at your role in the fight

Everyone tends to focus on what the other person is doing or saying: “You are so critical of me; I can’t do anything right around you!” Or, “Why do you keep ignoring what I’m saying; I just don’t matter to you!” It’s easier to focus on how you’re being hurt than on how your responses are hurting the other person. If you want the fighting to stop, if you want to reconnect with your partner, it is important that you focus on what you can do differently. By changing what you do, you automatically change the cycle. Now, here’s how to do it:

Here are some ways to think about your role:

  • * What are you doing/saying that starts or keeps the fight going? Is it your tone of voice, your body language, or the specific words you’re using?
  • * What do you think your words or behavior do to your partner? Is this really how you want to treat your partner?
  • * Can you identify what emotional outcome/need you want from the fight? Are you looking to feel supported, to feel special, to feel heard, to feel needed, to feel loved? (Note: Anger is typically a secondary emotion that covers up the more vulnerable feelings that are underneath.)
  • * Is what you’re doing/saying getting you closer to what you want? (You’re getting a response, but is it the response you want?)

Step 4. Make the specific changes that stop the cycle

Think for a moment of a time when you and your partner were feeling really connected. Most often we experience this feeling when we’re sharing a part of ourselves and our partner responds in a way that makes us feel loved and accepted.

If you can express the emotion you’re really feeling when faced with an argument — instead of a response masked with anger or withdrawal — more often than not you’ll get the loving reaction you want.

Showing this vulnerability is scary. It goes against your instinctual need to protect yourself. Many of us wish we could share with our partner what we truly feel, yet still protect ourselves from getting hurt. Here are some ways to help you find the right balance between being vulnerable and protecting yourself, so you’re more likely to get the reaction you want and the closeness you desire.

  • * If you preface your statement with…”this is really hard for me to tell you,” or “it’s scary to admit this, but…” it makes it easier to express your vulnerability and let your partner know how much you need them to stop and listen.
  • * By setting up what you’re about to share, you place a protective covering around your feelings. You also make it a lot harder for your partner to keep negatively spiraling, no matter what they happen to be feeling.
  • * Next, identify and express what you’re feeling — hurt, scared, abandoned, like a failure, or another emotional state.
  • * Finally, tell your partner what you need from them. Remember, it’s very important to recognize what you need BEFORE you try to tell your partner.
  • a. If you don’t know what you need, how can you expect someone else to know? Your partner can’t read your mind; and may be more than willing to give you what you need if you tell them what that is directly, without a negative emotional edge.

  • b. If you don’t know what you really need, it won’t matter what your partner does — you won’t ever be able to feel the connection.
  • If you can follow through on these steps, it will be almost impossible for your partner to continue in the old negative ways. By behaving differently, you stop giving them permission to react in the same manner. You break the fighting cycle! You might be surprised at how quickly you can experience a change in your own feelings and reactions, and how small changes can have a real impact on how you and your partner interact.

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