The pattern of mounting resentment is sometimes evidenced in romantic love. As clinicians we see couples approaching the proverbial office with a mile high and well-worn list of “crimes,” the accumulated wrongs etched in the heart and mind perpetrated by the accused, their wife/husband/girlfriend/ boyfriend/partner. The end result is two confused, hurt, and angry lovers, each defensively pointing a hostile finger at the other. What all of the old and played out arguments rarely touch upon is the vulnerability, the intense need and longing that each partner has covered up out of complete terror. According to some relationship theorists such as Dr. Sue Johnson, the terror strikes upon some of the basic and human fears that many healthy and unhealthy couples carry very deep within them, and mostly they mimic the very same needs of an infant and the way that the small baby communicates with their caregiver. Most of them sound something like this “Will you come when I cry out?” “Do I matter?” “Is it safe and stable to show my love with you?” Reflect for a moment on the difference between an infant that is picked up and nurtured when it cries versus the one who is left to bemoan itself when it is upset. One learns that its needs matter, will be attended to and the other works itself into an even greater frenzy before quieting out of complete exhaustion. It is true that most adult romantic love, often mimics these very basic and fundamental efforts to gain the love and attention of our hearts caregivers. It takes practice, and often times even professional interventions to hear the layers that exist under the arguments about who will do the dishes and take out the trash, the electric bill and groceries, which family we will spend Christmas with, who is initiating and receptive to sexual contact.
The couple enters treatment terrified that they will not receive the love for which their misled attempts are begging. After so much time in the vicious and bleak stalemate, their hopeless perpetual deadlock, both parts of the couple sigh, and enter the therapist’s office wanting to know why they spend more of their time fighting than loving. If this sounds like you, a couple’s therapist may make a vast improvement upon the quality of your relationship.
Following, you will find some key points for deescalating those hot topics and some basics leads to communicate more effectively with your partner. Hostile words may wage wars, angry verbiage may even win some battles but it is kind speech that will heave the proverbial mountain from the blocked impasse. Empathetically spoken syllables will turn a foe into a friend.
- When speaking with your partner it will best serve you and the relationship if you are able to control strong feelings and to talk in a calm and constructive manner. In other words if you are extremely angry, sad, hurt, be aware of your strong feeling state and momentarily consider what this is contributing to your words. Some speakers speak kind words but in a tone, speed or decibel which comes off as angry, beware of that. Your tone, words, and speed of speech should all communicate the same thing. It may help to momentarily close your eyes, and take in a few extended inhales in an effort to find your center. By interacting from your inner source of wisdom you increase the likelihood that you will move beyond those points which have kept your relationship stuck.
- Consider some of the words and phrases which litter those stilted efforts of communication. Below are some of the common phrases that we hear uttered in the midst of arguments along with alternative phrases which may create new possibilities for empathetic expression between you and your partner. When you keep in mind that human interaction is somewhat similar to the “choose your own adventure novels” that you may have enjoyed reading as a child. Each variance in the verbal exchange is an opportunity to move the conversation in a new direction.
OLD COMMUNCATION NEW COMMUNCATION
“You always do (insert XYZ)” —— It seems that I am noticing a pattern, I wonder what that is all about?
“You never do (XYZ)”—- I really wish that we could spend more time doing___________.
“I am so sick of (XYZ)”—– I really wish that we could start doing things like____________.
- Genuinely attempt to hear something different! When your partner is replying, be receptive to what they are saying and really take the time to hear them! Sometimes these hot topics put love on a battlefield and voices raise, tempers flare as each person struggles to be heard. The old game is to fling your next arrow at your opponent while they are finishing their words. Instead, try to hear them, think for a moment about what fear your partner may be communicating under his or her words, and try to repeat your partner’s statement back to them in your own words. It can be a monumental moment of change when a person feels that you took the time to hear them.
It is empowering to consider that there is a range of opportunity to experience positive hope with varying emotional reactions and verbal responses which are elicited by taking a less threatening stance in communication. It is true that it is challenging to alter responses and reactions when you are navigating a hot topic. It is also true that some individuals are more challenged than others when making the effort to stay calm. Either because you are becoming highly angry or withdrawing, I recommend that if it is proving to be highly difficult for you to keep your cool in conversation, you may benefit from professional input. Coping mechanisms to deescalate ourselves when feeling particularly hyper-aroused are learned skills that can be acquired. Also, it is certainly worth mentioning that any pattern of very strong reaction is likely our emotive spirits method of indicating a very important message to our thinking. Attempt a deeper look, try to focus past the growing frustration with your former inability to resolve those points which have you and your partner stuck. It is my belief that no matter how deadlocked the pattern of communication may be in your relationship, it is never too late to make positive changes in the right direction towards the warm and loving bond that you deeply long to achieve!
Love Happiness and Health,
Stephanie McCracken MSPC
Reviving Minds Therapy