What to do after a fight? – Part One
You’ve just had another screaming match with your husband and now your googling marriage counseling as your mascara runs down your face….
If this is a typical night for you, then you may feel like your relationship is at a crossroads. You may be thinking to yourself, I can’t go on like this or I deserve better. I’m here to tell you that you do deserve better and so does your husband. You deserve a relationship that is built on friendship and commitment. A relationship full of intimacy and admiration. Now, notice that I didn’t say a relationship that is conflict free. If you’ve read my last blog post- How to Fight Fair, then you know that conflict is inevitable in any relationship. So what do we do when we don’t fight fair and we experience a fight or as Dr. John Gottman says a “regrettable incident”? How can we move past these and heal our relationship?
That would require a repair conversation with our spouse or partner. The goal of a repair conversation isn’t to solve the problem but to understand our partner better and address the process. By process, I mean fight. We are going to talk about how we talk to each other. Very deep stuff….In order to do this effectively, we (both you and your partner) need to be calm and have some emotional distance from the incident. If that requires taking a time out to calm down and gather ourselves then that’s what we need to do. The trick is we must calm down and then come back to the conversation. Again, I’m not talking about the topic of the fight, I’m talking about talking about how you communicate. Did you get that?
Many times, in marriage counseling, couples work on communication skills. While these skills are important to have; research shows that getting to the deeper issues of a conflict can bring about more understanding and healing for a couple. As a marriage and family therapist, I walk couples through five steps when working through a repair conversation. It’s my goal that while in couples counseling, they can develop effective tools to manage and repair after conflict.
Step One: Feelings
Begin the conversation with a soft start up. Simply share how you felt, but don’t tell why yet.
Here are some examples:
I felt criticized.
I felt angry.
I felt like my opinions didn’t even matter.
I felt not listened to.
In step one, we are simply stating out loud our feelings. Use an I statement and do not say why you felt that way yet. Avoid commenting on your partner’s feelings. We are simply stating feelings and listening in step one. (Notice I said this twice, so that must be pretty important.)
Step Two: Realities
Take turns describing your perceptions; your reality of what happened during the fight. Describe only what YOU saw, heard, and felt. DO NOT describe what you presume your partner felt or meant. In a repair conversation, we want to avoid attack and blame. Talk about what YOU need from your partner. Describe your perception by giving an objective moment by moment description- “I heard you say” rather than “You said”. This will leave room for your partner to address any misunderstanding.
Many times, we get so hung up on who is right and who is wrong that we can’t move past the minutia of the fight. Instead, summarize and then validate your partner’s reality. Example- “I can see why this upsets you” or “It makes sense to me now why you saw it this way and what you needed from me”. Use empathy and validation to achieve understanding. Please note, validation doesn’t mean you agree, but that you can understand your partner’s experience of the regrettable incident.
If both parties feel understood then it’s time to move on. If not, then you continue with the validation process by asking “What do I need to know to understand your perspective better?”. Summarize, validate and check in with your partner about your understanding. If you and your partner keep getting stuck at this step, it may be helpful to seek marriage counseling to move beyond this point.
Stay tuned for part two….
If you and your partner are getting stuck or you can’t seem to move past any of these steps, please know there is help. Marriage counseling is a great tool that can help couples become “unstuck” and get their relationship back on track. Building Blocks Family Counseling is here to help. Contact us today about marriage counseling services.