Fights with our partners can happen over anything, can’t they??
My partner and I recently fought over how many bananas I might eat on a given day! I can laugh now, but I got so mad at the time, I uncharacteristically said, “I don’t think we should talk about this any more right now.”. I never say that…
You see, I got so triggered that I temporarily forgot a key concept in fighting well (and this is true for working with all upset people, whether it’s your partner, your kid, your friends, or your parents): let this issue be the issue.
Our emotional brain doesn’t care what the issues are — you can check this by revisiting the original issue after the upset is gone and see how small it as become — it just latches onto an issue in order to license the release of emotion that we need to get out of us.
It could have been anything, on this day, my partner’s emotional brain chose bananas to help her get her feelings out. And as a last gasp before the emotion started to take over, her logical brain tried to make sense of how the bananas could really honestly be so important. They got linked to how many more times than me she may have chosen to go to the store in the past. And how the housework is divided. And the time she has for projects she’s developing. And whether I care about her.
For me, nothing she was saying made sense. Her facts were off. Her summations too absolute. Her seeming lack of appreciation for all of my wonderful qualities and contributions to our family health and happiness so triggering to me that I had to tap out of the conversation. At the time, it was a desperate attempt not to let myself be dragged off center, or allow someone to control how many bananas I eat.
We both had such deep stuff well up for us that our connection got short circuited.
Over the next 24 hours, rather than brood heavily, we made efforts to reestablish our link by simply allowing touch and teamwork in the other areas of our life. It’s not easy to connect when you’re feeling disconnected, but we knew we had to “prime the pump” so that we could get our circuit back on line.
On the dog walk the next day, we felt courageous and connected enough to go back into the dreaded banana debate. It didn’t go well at first, in part because as you’d expect, having to get the connection up and running again tends to slow things down. We were also both immediately triggered back to the previous day’s level of upset because we had no cushion — either of resilience, or connection, or recent emotional release.
We started from that raw place and began to claw our way out. We let bananas be the issue. And because she had started it off, we allowed the banana debacle to be my partner’s release point. I held space with empathy (which protected me from my own defensiveness and soothed my own emotional brain), and asked questions about everything related to bananas:
“What does it bring up for you when I eat multiple bananas in the morning?”
“What are the feelings associated with that?”
“What story are you telling yourself about this situation or about how much I care about your needs?”
“What does it seem like you’re really needing now?”
“If you could wave a magic wand and have it be any way you choose, how would it be?”
“If none of that pans out, what will you do?”
We talked about bananas for over an hour as we hiked through the snow. We made no solutions at that time. We changed nothing. We just made space for the feelings, and then deepened our understanding of everything involved. We have since reviewed the issue, and likely will again, but found this time that there was nothing significant remaining. It just needed to be there to get those feelings out. And once we had made space for the emotion to come out of it, the issue deflated like a bouncy house at the end of a kid’s birthday party.
This is possible for all of us. True deep connection and safe space made around all feelings. Want to get started?
The Center for Emotional Education’s mini-course this month is about this ^^^ kind of emotional co-processing.
Here’s what one past participant, Rachel, wrote to us in a private note about the course:
That course was beyond profound for our relationship. We both learned and grew so significantly — it was like a key opening up issues we’d wrestled with together for years! Discussing it every night filled us with new understanding and appreciation for each other on a whole new level! I’ll admit, I was slightly skeptical of the lofty promises the course initially advertised, but they were totally accurate! Though at first, we found ourselves arguing more and caught ourselves failing to use the the techniques we’d learned (as you warned!) with time and practice, we truly did start to experience deeper intimacy, clearer communication and more lasting solutions to long-standing issues than ever before! Problems that we could never seem to get to the bottom of in professional counseling suddenly seemed simple in light of the brain science of why we’re reacting to each other in unhelpful ways. We both continue to discuss the information regularly and benefit from it more & more. It’s even spilled over into our parenting approaches in tricky scenarios! We both feel deep relief and gratitude for the gift you have given our marriage. I would love an opportunity to author a testimonial boasting of the course’s effectiveness and depth if ever you have use for one, and I will certainly continue referring my friends to it whenever it’s offered!
Fight Without Fighting A Couple’s Guide to Fighting Well.
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