In a marriage, fights, arguing and conflict patterns can take a life of their own. For example, most of your fights may be starting with one partner attacking, another defending and then both partners getting angry and upset and not talking to each other for some time. Patterns like these can become almost perpetual with one negative response or issue triggering a whole sequence of other responses and issues. When you are in such a sequence, even innocently teasing your spouse or trying to repair the situation may lead to a storm of negative emotions. This article will teach you five ways to not get stuck in negative patterns and find a way out before it’s too late.
Don’t stop in time
Stopping in time is very different from consciously taking a time out. A time out is when you and your partner agree to take a break from discussing an argument because one of you or both of you feel that you need a little bit of time to calm down. After you come down, you return to the issue, discuss it and solve it.
Stopping in time is when you start fighting, get exhausted by being stuck in the negative loop and take a break so that you could keep fighting. Often, when spouses stop in time, they stop talking to each other. They still carry their negative emotions with them. It is like they are recharging before another fight, which is very different from getting a rest before you are able to discuss solutions to issues.
If you don’t find ways to stop such patterns, your marriage can become very destructive. Spouses that are aware of their patterns have more power when it comes to stopping them. In your marriage you can have a lot of fights and disagreements but you need to find ways to end on a positive note. Otherwise, over time such fights can turn into prolonged negative experiences that will erode your marriage.
Indicators of getting stuck in a conflict and stopping in time include going for a prolonged period of time without communicating after an argument. If you are still using personal attacks and harsh language after you seemingly agreed on a solution, your fight is not over. It is also not over if one of the partners feels unsafe, out of control, actively tries to avoid his or her spouse, keeps emotions and feelings inside and often agrees just to get along and avoid communication.
The solution to not getting stuck in time is to become aware of the pattern and bringing it up. This is the only thing you can do that will lead to success.
Label your patterns
When you and your partner become aware of your conflict patterns you should discuss them and create labels for them. Next, call them out as you see them. This can help you slow down the escalation in a fight by paying attention to the pattern and the dynamics of what is going on between you and your spouse instead of fighting with each other.
Your ability to see the patterns will be enhanced greatly if you learn to get in touch with your feelings, identify your primary emotions and are able to see the emotional state of your spouse. For example, you may become able to point out that you are getting angry and your spouse is getting upset instead of actually progressing on the road of getting angrier and more upset. When a couple can do that, it can hit on a brake and stop the conflict.
Famous marriage expert John Gottman named such actions as “repair attempts.” He also discovered that couples successful at repair attempts were much better off than couples who didn’t know how to move away from their negative experiences. Other repair attempts that you can try include listing to your spouse, intentionally slowing down, sharing vulnerable emotions and responding to vulnerable emotions and using distractions such as humor.
Listen for pain
One of the best ways to stay emotionally connected to your spouse during and after a fight is to try and figure out what is really going on with your partner. Your spouse may be angry at you because you forget to stop by a grocery store and get a few items, but their primary reaction may be pain and fear about you not caring about them.
Conflicts typically perpetuate when there is misunderstanding, fear, or disappointment. When these emotions get covered by secondary anger or defensiveness, it is hard to deal with them directly. When a fight escalates, spouses can say a lot of negative things to each other that will really hurt.
The longer you’ve been married, the better you know your partner. While this does have positives, it also has negatives, being able to hurt your partner really deeply being one of them. Listing for hurt and monitoring the conflict for primary emotions is a great way to not let the conflict continue.
Discuss your patterns
For many couples the moment when they are able to see what is happening during their fights and discuss it is a point of a major breakthrough.
When you are able to identify a pattern and communicate about it, the pattern becomes a roadblock, an obstacle in your relationship. This doesn’t mean that you won’t ever have obstacles again in your marriage, but you now will be able to see them and deal with them.
Couples that are able to identify what is going on with them can then quickly redirect their energy and reactive emotions into understanding and supporting each other better, which ultimately helps them take their marriage to the next level.