What's Love Got to Do With It? Break the Pattern of Arguing with Your Partner (Part II)

Where to start….I encourage you to stop blaming each other and begin to see this problem as a dance of dynamics that get triggered, and played out by both partners.  See this dynamic as an external problem that happens in the space between each other. Sue Johnson, who wrote “Hold Me Tight,” calls conflict between two partners as the demon dialogues or the pooka.  It’s the dance you and your partner get into and you both fall into the roles of blamer and blamee.

After seeing the demon dialogues as an external problem or a problem between each other, begin to identify the role you both take.  Does one individual pursue contact by blaming or attaching?  While the other partner creates distance?  What do you think happens when one person shuts down and distances her or himself?  You guessed it. The other person begins to get more frustrated and wants to pursue more, which can lead to attacking.  The individual who is shutting down of becoming passive is going into further isolation often feeling “not good enough.”

Gottman identifies four behaviors that kill a relationship:  stonewalling, contempt, defending, and criticizing. These behaviors are extremes, but all are attempts to either connect or distance oneself.  The need to be heard, loved, validated and shown compassion are all natural desires one seeks.  When there is lack of safety, couples find themselves one upping each other to prove they need to be heard and validated.

In addition to assessing the couples’ dynamics, I ask couples to describe to me what they saw and experienced while growing up, related to connection and communication.  Did they witness their family members connect by yelling? Did family members live separately?Was the household quiet or chaotic?  Was vulnerability viewed as a weakness? What learned behaviors did they pick up from witnessing and experiencing their family system that shows up in their current relationship?

I think it’s important to pursue couples counseling in order to get a third observer to assist you with identifying when you and your partner are getting into the “demon dialogues.”  When you are experiencing your emotions you are unable to see what is occurring from a rational point-a-view.  Many individuals are scared to pursue couples therapy, because they believe therapy will end their relationship.  The fact is most couples get better after getting into therapy. Couples that don’t get better in couples therapy usually entered therapy too late, just as their relationship was breaking up anyways and they use couples therapy as the last resort.  When they should’ve entered therapy long ago before the relationship became overly fatigued.

Where do you need to start first:

1.  Begin to see your arguments as failed attempts to connect.

2. See arguments as a patterned behavior that both partners participate in, versus seeing your partner as the problem or the enemy…stop blaming.

3. Create a time-out word that’s neutral (for example, “pickle,” “apple,” or etc.).  This word is an agreement that one person or both has had his or her fill and needs to request to set a boundary.

4. Agree to not call each other hurtful names, because it undermines #1 and it makes the interaction unsafe.

5. Repeat #1, and try to see your partner’s point-of-view based from her or his perspective even if you disagree with it.

6. Soften yourself and breathe.

7. Given the idea your partner wishes to connect, what do you think he or she is trying to say?  Even if it’s coming out all wrong.  Try to look past the way it’s coming out and grasp what your partner might be trying to communicate.

8. Validate your partner using body language and words that show you “get it.”

9. Now switch places and ask your partner if he or she is willing to understand what it’s like to be you.  Remember to return to #1.


Elana Clark-Faler
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