It seems that each time I write another Relationship “Essential” I always think it’s the most important one. I know I said that last time when I talked about the toxic effects of blame. Studies show that one of the most important habits of successful couples is that they know how to react effectively when their partner is upset – disapproving, hurt, sad, etc. With unsuccessful couples, when one partner gets upset, it’s not long before the other partner gets upset as well. The upset seems to spread like a virus, jumping from one person to the other. Everything seemed OK and then all of a sudden you find yourself in a conflict. Sound familiar? Well join the club, most of us struggle with this if we’re honest. Now instead of just one partner being unstable, there’s two unstable people which of course causes most couples a lot of distress. I call this reciprocal, triggering pattern the dreaded “love loop.” You find yourself saying things (out loud and in your head) like, “here we go again,” I can’t take this anymore,” “you’re so difficult,” etc.
Some of you may be thinking “when my partner’s upset, I just don’t say anything or show my true feelings and I keep it all in.” This is a bad strategy as well because what you think and say to yourself internally is more important and than what you say verbally. Studies show that at least 80% of communication is non-verbal and even it you try to hide your true feelings, your partner will inevitably pick up on it.
What’s the solution? When your partner’s upset try to look for the understandable reasons why. Nobody gets upset for no reason; there’s always some understandable factor in why your partner feels the way they do. Brent Atkinson recommends his clients ask themselves these kinds of questions:
- Maybe your partner was having a bad day.
- Maybe your partner didn’t have all the facts.
- Maybe your partner was reading something between the lines that you didn’t intend to be saying.
- Maybe this issue was more important to your partner that you previously understood.
- Maybe your partner wasn’t upset so much about this particular situation as s/he was about where s/he feared things might be headed.
- Maybe your partner felt threatened by you in a way that you didn’t understand.
- Maybe your partner was afraid s/he was going to lose something very important to him or her if s/he did things the way you wanted.
- Maybe your partner was acting this way because s/he felt (or had recently felt) criticized or dismissed by you, and s/he felt resentful and uncooperative because of this.
- Maybe your partner just has really different priorities or expectations than you do. Maybe s/he was acting perfectly consistent with his/her priorities.
Flooding & Time-Outs
If you do find yourself in a nasty conflict, you’re brain is likely FLOODED. If your heart beat goes over 90 – 100 beats/ minute, your brain goes into fight or flight mode. You lose your peripheral vision, hearing shuts down and your brain is focused on pure survival. You can’t hear, see or think…not a good situation for problem solving and effective communication! The answer: take a 20 minute time out. Science tells us that’s precisely the minimum length of time it takes for our brain chemistry to normalize. Make an agreement with your partner to take a time out when this happens. A hand signal works well and also communicates that you’re NOT leaving the relationship and that you DO CARE – you’ll resume the conversation and deal with the issue after you’ve calmed down.