When you and your partner are aware of the roles you take in your marriage and the patterns in your marital conflicts, you get new resources and tools that can help you deal with your issues.
If you aren’t aware of your patterns, you risk getting stuck in conflicts and fights that look identical and seem to repeat themselves over and over again while you just can’t find the solutions. Such patterns tend to repeat themselves when couples can’t find their way out of negative emotions and interactions. The fights then become emotional quicksand and you feel like you are sinking deeper and deeper as you go, which can lead to both partners feeling even more anger, shame, fear and other negative emotions.
Become an observer of your behavior
The first step in working towards fighting less consists of becoming aware that your fights may have patterns. You want to learn to observe and analyze what happens between you and your spouse. This may seem like a strange idea at first because many spouses think that arguing is something they naturally do, something that has a life of its own. To them, it is a part of life that they don’t see as a process that they can observe and influence. For example, you may not realize that in your fights one of both of your stick with either withdrawing or pursuing pattern of behavior.
None of the patterns in your marital conflicts are better than others. They are neutral and spouses are not “good” or “bad” because of the roles that they plan in their conflicts and their marriage. Both partners have reasons to behave the way they behave and the best thing you can do is find these reasons and deal with them.
When both spouses understand the reasons for their own behavior and the behavior of their partner, it becomes much easier to empathize, relate and connect. In turn, this makes it easier to break old negative patterns of behavior in both partners and create new patterns that are positive and effective.
A fight in a marriage is always a two-way street, even if one of the spouses chooses withdrawing as his or her coping mechanism. Blaming one person is useless because it doesn’t solve anything.
The key to success is to recognize the patterns, the way you are going back and forth in them and change the behaviors.
Patterns and roles have similarities, but they also have differences. Speaking of roles, you are either the one who attacks (pursues) or the one that withdraws. The patterns of your marital fights are based on these roles and consist of attack-attack attack-withdraw and withdraw-withdraw patterns based on what roles you and your spouse take. You can describe patterns in even more detail based on the primary and secondary emotions that you and your partner feel. For example, one of the partners may be attacking because he or she feels angry about being scared of losing the partner.
Make a commitment together with your spouse
When you argue or when you connect, you are in the marriage together. If you want to fight less and create new behaviors, you also need to do this together by teaming up. If you allow your patterns to get between you and your spouse, the pattern is going to win.
One way to fight back against your fighting patterns is to hit the brakes in the middle of a fight. For example, if you know that you typically start defending yourself, you can ask your partner for a time out before you both fall into the trap of the same old behavior and escalate.
Make a commitment to become aware of your behavior when you fight and to start noticing the patterns. If you can exit the pattern together, you are on the way to beating it.
Use your own emotions to guide you during fights
While committing to become aware of your behavior together with your partner is great, your body can help you during this process, too. The more you become aware of your own emotions and feelings, the easier it will be for you to recognize what is happening.
Your body constantly gives you clues about what is happening between you and the world that surrounds you. This includes the reaction of your skin to hot and cold weather and it also includes your emotions about other people when the people are present. For example, many spouses say that when they connect to their partner, they feel warm and relaxed.
Your emotions send signals to your brain instantly. When you touch something hot or very cold, you move your hand away even before you can verbally describe what is happening. The same happens during your interactions with people. Your emotions send you signals before you intellectually know what is going on.
A key to fighting less is to learn to recognize how emotions flow through your body and not let your reactive emotions derail your behavior when discussing issues with your spouse.
Typically, your fights escalate not because of the original issue but because of the secondary emotions. You feel guilty yet your spouse may not recognize it and so you get angry. It is that secondary anger that gets you into trouble and propels the fight. It is not your real, vulnerable, true emotions. Unfortunately, many people put the primary emotions aside and get stuck in the loop of secondary negative emotions. Recognizing your primary emotion and communicating to your spouse about it is something that you can do and something that is on you.
Learn to slow yourself down by taking deep breaths. It is helpful if you slow down your surroundings, too, by turning off the TV, not letting your phone ring or vibrate when you are getting new messages and so on. Once you do slow down, listen to your emotions and identify what is going on. Then, communicate with your spouse and deal with real issues.