When emotions are running high and you and your partner are in the heat of the moment, it is extremely difficult to stop yourself. You may want to stop talking all together and go take cover, you may want to run him or her over with harsh words and yelling, or something else aggressive. I want you to feel totally normal that this is occurring. Your brain and body are reacting to anxious tension and you believe you are in danger. Naturally, you want to be out of danger and you have officially entered fight or flight mode. (Hint – if you’re not sure if you’re there – check your heart rate. It’s likely you are if it’s 90-100 beats per minute or more).
Soothing yourself is your number one job at this time. The ability to self soothe helps couples IMMENSELY when they need to navigate conflict, and come out relatively unscathed. The temptation to cut off your partner and tell them everything they are saying makes no sense, while simultaneously trying to prove your point (sometimes loudly or rudely) is REAL. It’s hard to ignore. We all give in to it from time to time because that’s human nature.
We sit with couples every day who struggle to hold their rebuttals while their partner is talking. Creating safety through assigning speaker and listener roles is commonplace. The listener has the job of creating space for the speaker’s feelings, naming them, attempting to understand and validate where the speaker is coming from. The urgency that the listening partner feels to issue a rebuttal can really hurt the interaction. One question that listeners can ask themselves is:
What am I believing about my partner right now?
If you ask yourself that question, the answer will point to the assumptions you may be making about your partner’s objectives, feelings, or intent for the conversation. Those assumptions, while natural when you’re flooded, are extremely damaging. If you keep your negative beliefs in check throughout a conversation, it will help keep you calm enough to respond with empathy rather than rebuttal after rebuttal.
Self talk example: What am I believing? Ok, I’m believing that they want to hurt me. I know that can’t be the case, because I know deep down my partner loves me. How can I turn this belief around…hmmm…by taking the perspective that they’re just dying to be heard by me and they’re really hurt inside. Let me take a different approach.
Try it next time! See if keeping your thoughts in check helps your conflict to go a little more smoothly. In the end, everybody can feel heard, we promise!