5 Tips to not Fight in Marriage Communication
In the last post, I talked about how the instinct to fight or flight affects marriage communication. Today, I am discussing ways to keep from “fighting” back when your fight instinct wants to rise up in you.
When I ask clients how they deal with their frustration or anger while communicating with their spouse, many of them say, “Well, I just try not to say anything or react.”
Does this help?
Maybe once in a while it does. However, most of the time, your emotions will get the best of you, especially the longer you go without a solution. Couples who struggle with arguing, and can’t seem to change their pattern of avoider/distancer, or fight or flight, need help. So, I want to give you 5 tips to try to keep this instinct from ruining your conversations.
Do you really know yourself? Are you aware of your tendencies, triggers or emotions? Do you know what makes you upset? Do you know what your “buttons” are? If not, you need to grow awareness of yourself. Most of us think we know ourselves, but I wonder how many of us could give details to the questions above.
I encourage you to sit down with these questions and brainstorm. Think about when you have gotten upset, anxious, scared, sad, angry or irritable. Think about the situation around that emotions. What was going on? Who was there? What time of day was it? Where were you? What was said?
Write all of this down. For every emotion above, go through these same questions for a scenario or two.
Why do I ask you to do this?
Because, the more you know about yourself, the more you can control your reactions. Also, the more you know why you do what you do, the more you can control your reactions. It is easier to make a plan for when you are triggered if you understand these things about yourself.
Instincts like fight or flight tend to be triggered. By knowing possible triggers, especially ones that make you angry enough to fight back, you can make a plan to stay calm or manage your choices when those triggers arise.
Use active listening
Listening seems so easy. We think we listen well. Yet, most of us are terrible listeners. I tell my clients that I can repeat verbatim exactly what my wife says, but I am not very good at understanding what she really means.
Each of us are so different. We often interpret what others are saying through our own thoughts, beliefs and experiences. Unfortunately, what they are actually thinking is very different sometimes than what we perceived.
Some authors call this our “glasses.” One marriage expert even referred to a metaphor that says men wear blue colored glasses and women wear pink colored glasses. He was trying to show that we see things very differently.
We may not be able to know what the other person is thinking, even if we heard their words or saw their actions. The lesson here is to not assume anything. So active listening is a way to take off the blue or pink glasses and try to understand how the other person sees things (ie, putting on their glasses).
This can help with not “fighting” back because you will be more mindful of the other person’s viewpoint. This keeps you from becoming defensive. You now are in an understanding stance, and not a defensive stance or one that is ready to attack back. This is not easy, but if you want to learn more about active listening, go HERE.
Take a timeout
Have you ever needed a break when you got tired of working, running or cleaning? I do! People take timeouts all the time when they are doing physical activities.
Would it make sense to take a timeout when your brain gets overworked?
Sometimes in stressful conversations, a person may become “flooded” per Dr. John Gottman. In his book The 7 Principles for Making Your Marriage Work, he tells us that our brains get tired and need a rest sometimes. We can become confused and overwhelmed, especially in arguments. Sometimes conversations just go in circles making us metaphorically “dizzy” in our heads and keep us from figuring out why we are arguing.
Thus, taking a timeout can help to reset, reorganize and clarify a situation or conflict. When a conversation is going no where or getting out of control, a break can be useful to slow things down.
Timeouts can be easy when an appropriate structure is set up and both people respect the rules. Sometimes one person feels like they are about to explode. Instead of “fighting” back, take a timeout and cool off.
Literally, slow down! Slow your breathing, your speech, and your movement. Slow your everything! Sit down if you need to. If you need to slow down to a stop, then STOP.
Why slow down?
As you become increasingly more angry, upset, anxious or irritable, your heart rate and blood pressure rises. Stress hormones begin to be released. Other chemical reactions also happen in your body that are signaling you to prepare for a…you guessed it…FIGHT!
Slow yourself by actively PRACTICING slowing down. Try slowing your breathing by counting to 4 as you exhale, then again as you inhale. Practice letting your body become heavy or use relaxation. If you can effectively calm the body, you are telling the body to stop preparing to defend itself.
Ask questions, don’t assume
As mentioned in the first tip, we don’t want to assume anything. Asking a question of your partner allows you to gather more information. How many times do you assume you know what your spouse is thinking? When you assume, how many times do you become frustrated by what you thought was true? Also, how many times have your assumptions been wrong?
Let’s ask questions to gather more information before we assume. I usually call these questions clarifying questions. You want to have the best understanding you can have and the exact information you need to make the best choices.
Many of us react negatively and “fight” or “attack” our spouse when we are triggered by what they are saying. We especially do this when we don’t take the time to get enough information to understand the message.
Stop assuming you know what your spouse is saying. Slow down, as we said above. Take the time to make sure you know exactly what your partner means. This again may take structure and practice. But you can do it!
These five tips are just a few of the ways you can keep the instinct to “fight” from ruining your marriage or relationships. Just using one of them may make a drastic difference in your ability to communicate, listen, and connect with your spouse. Take the time to think about how you might implement each one of these. Develop your BEST way of communicating in your marriage.
I hope that this has been helpful. I hope I have given you information that you can go back to when you need it. If you have any further questions or need help, please call me and set up an appointment or check out some of my other BLOG POSTS.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 706-955-0230.
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