He says. She says.
He asserts his point of view. She asserts hers.
With both people oblivious to the tension, the temperature rises. He feels threatened by her comments. She is becoming threatened by his comments. He feels inadequate to her not-so-subtle comments. She feels hurt by his abrupt responses.
Next: the fight!
“I don’t know how we get there,” Nan shared during a recent Marriage Intensive. “It seems like we can be talking about the weather and the next thing we know we’re yelling at each other.”
Nan, a spritely 35-year-old mother of two toddlers, had come to The Marriage Recovery Center with her husband, Jason, a stout man with a bushy beard.
They sat close to each other on the couch, suggesting they can do well when they’re doing well, and not so much when things heat up.
“What’s your take on how things go from zero to hot, Jason?” I asked.
“If I knew that, I wouldn’t be here,” he said smiling. “All I know is that we get there. We’re in love one minute and before I know it, she’s talking about leaving me. I can’t stand that.”
With that comment, Nan jumped in.
“C’mon,” she said. “It’s not like I don’t give you clues as to what is bothering me. You’re always so surprised. But, certain things bother me and you don’t seem to notice.”
“Yes,” he said. “But, I don’t understand how we can be getting along great one minute and fighting the next.”
“That’s true,” she said, looking to me for help.
“I suspect that you’re both right, folks,” I said. “Most couples have ‘hot buttons’ that can send a nice conversation into a fight. There are also situations where couples don’t read the cues effectively. They are not aware that the situation is ready to ‘break bad.’ That’s what I want to work with you on.
“Let’s consider some action steps that can be taken so your conversations don’t ‘break bad,’ so you can read the cues effectively to stave off fights.”
First, you must be alert for ‘raw spot’ topics.
Every couple has them. Perhaps it your ‘raw spots’ center around money, sex or your children. It could be his work, her spending, or the way he/she keeps the house. Whatever they are, know your ‘raw spots’ that lead to ‘breaking bad’ and agree to navigate them carefully. Agree to only talk about them when you are both in your best spirits, in the right place and have agreed it is safe to talk about them.
Second, you must be alert for escalation.
Fights don’t just happen. They happen incrementally, even though to you it may seem like it is a one-step process. Watch how you fight. Notice the feelings you have before the situation heats up. Notice how you feel as the situation heats up. What do you say? What does your mate say? What kinds of words (accusations) do you use that escalates a calm conversation to a fight and ‘breaking bad’?
Third, you must utilize de-escalating tactics.
Agree upon words that will de-escalate the situation, such as “How about if we slow this down?” Perhaps you can say, “I’m starting to feel tense and want to step back from this for a moment or two.” Interrupting the escalation will help take the heat off. Don’t be afraid to admit that you are feeling tense, irritable or even frightened and must step away for a few minutes to calm yourself.
Fourth, you must take care of yourself.
Fights occur when we don’t listen carefully to ourselves or our mate. We fail to attend effectively to ourselves and our mate, and de-escalation means listening to ourselves and our mate. We can take care of both ourselves and our mate by slowing down the process, stepping back, listening carefully and making wise decisions.
The Apostle James correctly tells us that quarrels and fights occur because we don’t have what we want and so get into power struggles to get it. “Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1) These passions, of course, lead to fighting and quarreling. We must be willing to let go of power struggles, calm ourselves and be willing to “lose”, deciding the issue at hand is not worth struggling about.
Finally, you must see the situation as an opportunity to interact in a more godly manner.
Notice God at work in your relationship. God can and will bless your relationship, but you need to be open and receptive to changes that must be made. Consider the current situation, how you are struggling with your mate, and determine what the real issue is and what is the best way to handle it. Ask God what you are to learn from the situation and then determine to grow through it.
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We are here to help and offer phone/Skype counseling on issues related to this article. Please go to our website, www.marriagerecoverycenter.com and discover more information about this as well as the free downloadable eBook, A Love Life of Your Dreams, including other free videos and articles.
Please send responses to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and also read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website. You’ll find videos and podcasts on sexual addiction, emotionally destructive marriages, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage.