5 relationship hacks to help you fight with your partner without ruining your relationship.
Everybody has a belly button. Everybody poops. And everybody fights. These are 3 inarguable truths, behind which lies all psychological health and spiritual success.
You know who didn’t fight? Ward and June Cleaver. And were they happy? No. They were miserable. Every night after dinner, Ward stumbled into the basement to look at pictures of his ex-girlfriend, and finish off a bottle of gin he’d refer to as Wilson, until he blacked out. All the while, June tucked herself into her twin bed, to recite the serenity prayer exactly 103 times before falling asleep.
Conflict in our relationships is a lifeline to their health. Conflict, like sex. Conflict, like acceptance. Conflict, like love, is the beating heart of our partnerships, transmitting the blood, sweat and tears necessary for survival.
Knowing how to fight well, is a gift we bring to our partners, and I can tell you, most of us do not come bearing this particular gift.
As a couples therapist, I’ve seen it all. Name-calling, blaming, stonewalling, tears... And wait 'till I tell you what my clients do!
Just kidding. I only do that when I’m off the clock. But what I can tell you, from both clinical and personal experience, is that none of those things actually work.
A well-timed sucker punch might get you a point on the scoreboard, but it makes you nothing but a bully.
So why are we so awful to the people we claim to adore?
First, I’ll tell you what the reasons AREN’T: It’s not because you’re inherently mean, or because you secretly hate your girlfriend, or because your parents modeled hostility instead of love (although all of those things might also be true).
The reason you fight like an animal is because you are an animal.
Or at least you’re triggered like one.
First, what’s a trigger?
A trigger is a person, place, thing or situation that invites an overwhelming emotional response, and most likely points to unhealed wounds from the past.
Here it is in laymen’s terms:
* If you feel like you literally have no other choice but to tell your girlfriend she looks like a poor man’s Margaret Thatcher, it means you’ve entered Trigger Town. Population: You.
* If your best thinking advises you to hurl your brand new cell phone across the room, Congratulations, can we please have a round of applause for this year’s Little Miss Triggered!
At this point, you might as well call it a day on the fight. Stop. Go to your corners. Try again later.
Again, the reason you fight like an animal is because you are an animal. Or there are parts of your brain that are no different from a lizard’s, a water buffalo’s, or a mountain lion’s.
John Gottman, psychologist, and relationship extraordinaire, explains how the brain literally floods and shuts down in response to feeling stressed or threatened. The parts of our brain responsible for the higher-level thinking that it takes to have a healthy fight, functionally leave the building.
Stan Tatkin, author of “Wired for Love,” notes how the love and connection parts of our brain, disappear in the face of a perceived threat. This leaves us with nothing more than a reptilian response to stress.
Cue name-calling! Cue finger pointing! Cue door slamming!
When it comes to self-preservation and the identification of danger, our amygdala is Central Headquarters. This almond shaped structure in our temporal lobe, is what gets us into an animalistic state of alertness, ready to tear our opponents (and boos) apart, limb from limb.
The trick isn’t hours of couples therapy, although I’d be the last person to tell you this couldn’t help. The immediate solution, however, is learning how to properly identify your triggers and knowing how to invite different parts of your brain into the skirmish.
Conversely, a lack of awareness of our triggers, leads us into massive emotional reactivity. We become our triggers’ flunkeys. Their footmen. Their bikini clad, bootlicking houseboys, ready to carry out the next order, whatever it may be.
So next time you want to go toe to toe with your sweetheart, try these 4 relationships hacks to help you hold on to your brain.
1. The Ball Toss: Don’t worry boys, it’s not what you think. Try tackling a ‘hot topic’ by standing on opposite ends of the room, and tossing a ball back and forth to each other while you talk. This will bring you into a state of present awareness. Thus, your brain will be more focused on catching the ball, than it will be on the argument, and chances are you’ll find yourself less reactive than usual.
2. Color Me Stable: Grab a coloring book and crayons, and sit side by side with your partner, while you chat. Allow your focus to rest on the beautiful picture in front of you instead of picking your partner’s words apart. Coloring provides a soothing, calming force that can counterbalance your tendency to get triggered.
3. Safe Words with Friends: Couples can devise a “safe word” to use when one person notices the waters dangerously rising on a trigger. This word grants you a short pardon from having to continue the fight, which should be used to calm down, or take some space. After this time, you can choose whether to keep going, or to resume later. My girlfriend and I use the word watermelon. It’s yours if you want it. My gift to you.
4. Takes Two to Timer: This is my personal favorite. Set a timer for 7 minutes, or 20, minutes, or 1 hour - whatever feels comfortable to you and your partner. Agree that the conversation will end the second the timer goes off. You can always restart it, but only if everybody present is game. It will be infinitely easier to enter an uncomfortable conversation with your partner, if you know the end is nigh.
So there you go. 4 relationship hacks to “take it outside” by going inward.
Lonely Forever? No Way.