Arguments can escalate pretty quickly in romantic relationships, as many couples know. In part 1 of this blog post I discuss being aware of when your arousal level is increasing past the point that you can have a productive discussion.
Couples who are experts on themselves and each other understand how to set up their discussions for success, rather than failure.
Couples with kids understand how vital this is because they simply do not have the time to have the same fruitless fight over and over.
You know yourself best. Set up the discussion for when you are non-stressed. From speaking with many couples I have learned that bad times to have an important discussion include:
- As soon as you’ve walked in the door from work
- When you are in bed
- When your kids are present
- When you are hungry
- When you are driving or otherwise confined to a space you can’t escape
- When you are distracted by work or your phone/email, etc
If you or your partner starts an important discussion and you know you are already in a stressed state, gently put off the discussion.
You could say,
“What you are saying is important and I want to hear it but right now but I can’t hear you because I just got home from work and I am hungry. Can we do this tomorrow when your mom is here to watch the baby and we can go for dinner?
And then make sure to follow through with your partner by having the discussion. It’s so good for your partner’s brain if you follow through. The pathways between taking a risk and feeling like you will catch them will strengthen. They will feel more emotionally safe with you. Whatever their past experiences in childhood or adult relationships, being in a relationship with someone who is emotionally responsive is healing and can change personality.
The other partner has to do their best to not feel abandoned by this response. It’s hard but I always say to them, Play the Tape. If you keep going on this track and make your partner stay here and argue with you is it going to get somewhere fruitful? Or can you see it ending in screaming and tears and overwhelm. One walks out, the other is stuck home with the kids. Neither are present. Better to put it off, self soothe and then return when your arousal levels are back in the optimal zone.
How Can I Set Our Important Discussions Up for Success?
My partner and I have learned to schedule time for an important discussion.
Talking about something that could be stressful goes much more smoothly when you are not feeling put on the spot. And when your belly is full. And when you’re not worried about what the kids are hearing.
When you plan to have an important discussion you can set yourself up to be in a good listening position.
Couples who are experiencing a less than ideal bond find they need more strategies like these to get through discussions. Use them to add more positive interactions to your experiences. Over time, you will become more bonded and may find you don’t need these types of strategies anymore.
When Should We Come in for Couples Counselling?
If you are feeling less connected with your partner and have tried strategies like the one I’ve described to no avail, come in to counselling and get to a more bonded place, quickly. In my sessions partners are not speaking to each other in ways they do at home. You are mostly speaking to me, in order for the other person to hear in a non-defensive way. Only when I can be sure that the other partner is able to catch your reach will I set up an interaction between the two of you to increase your bond.
And Baby Makes Three, by John Gottman
LoveSense, by Sue Johnson