Become aware and name your fighting patterns
Most couples have fights that repeat themselves. For example, it can be fights about finances or someone not doing the chores or not contacting the partner about some issues. Couples also typically fight in the same way. A spouse starts attacking and the other spouse responds in a similar way all the time, be it avoidance, silence or attacking back. It may be very hard to notice the patterns during your fights because your emotions are at your peak. Think about your fights when you are calm, cool and collected. Discuss them with your spouse and name them. Doing so will take a lot of power away from the fights. Giving them funny names can take even more power away. For instance, your fight patterns have names such as “runaway train,” “fear rollercoaster,” or “vicious anger escalation.”
Then, when you notice yourself in the middle of a pattern, call it out and focus your attention not on your emotions in the moment but on the pattern and on the reason that you went into it, which most likely is the real cause of your fight.
You can also map your patterns on paper. Think about a typical argument you would have with your spouse and play it in your mind like a movie. Then, divide the piece of paper into two parts. One part is for you to describe your typical behavior and the other part is for your spouse.
When you are describing your part, focus on actions and write down what you do and the way it looks from the outside. Imagine what your partner sees when you say and do what you say and do.
Every argument and every communication have a beginning, a middle and an end. Try to track your responses during a confrontation with your spouse and notice what you do. Come up with at least three examples of your behavior for the beginning, the middle and the end. Pay attention to how your emotions and actions change during the fight.
It is a great idea to do this together with your partner. This way you can have one person taking a break when the other one is writing. This will let you see your partner’s responses and think about your behavior in more detail.
At the bottom, write how and when you tend to end fights. Review your writing with your partner and make sure that you have captured the essence of what typically happens between you.
Map out your emotions
Once you map out your behaviors and actions, you want to map out your emotions. Look at the list of behaviors and on a new sheet of paper write down a sequence of emotions that you feel during a conflict with your spouse. You will notice that you most likely go through the same cycle. For example, there may be a trigger that gets anger going. After that, you feel shame and then fear replaces the shame.
Understand the reasons behind the behavior of your partner
The responses that you and your spouse have during fights are there to help you cope with your emotional state and navigate you through the times of uncertainty in your marriage. A fight is an example of such a time. It may be a very short time, but emotionally it most likely still feels like uncertainty and insecurity.
Try to understand the responses of your partner and the way your and your spouse’s actions and behaviors fall into a pattern.
Typically, partners attack or withdraw because they want to feel safer, keep things from getting worse and to escalate the issues that they feel strongly about.
It is the pattern that you and your spouse should be focused on dealing with.
Notice when things do well
Couples that are able to notice what happens when they fight and can discuss it will have more positive emotions in their relationship. When you both are focused on dealing with a pattern, you won’t see your partner as an enemy. As a consequence, you will feel less need to defend yourself during an argument. This will allow you to be more open and honest, which opens new opportunities for communication within your marriage. As you move away from emotional reactions and start dealing with actual issues, support each other and show appreciation for each other and all the work that you’ve done.