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How to mend navigation: 1. How to mend * 2. Models of mending * 3. How to be a grown up * 4. Hold me tight * 5. Becoming vulnerable * 6. Emotional bids * 7. Constructive fights * 8. Exits from intimacy * 9. The answer
Last edit of this page 02/11/2012
When attachment security is uncertain, a partner will pursue, fight, and even bully a spouse into responding to attachment cues, even if this has a negative general impact on the relationship. Sue Johnson
Unable to stop fighting
Anger is neutral but can be expressed in destructive or healthy ways.
Negative self-talk projected onto the other + anger = toxic cyclical fights. For example, 'you always think I'm .....'.
Most fights are repetitive patterns with a familiar beginning, middle and end where one or both people do not feel free to apologise and change their regretful behavior.
Fight problems arise when one or both partners fail to assert their own feelings and wants constructively, while at the same time maintaining a genuine caring and respect for the other.
To move toward constructive fights I recommend you make a plan to establish good fight manners collaboratively, and before the next fight.
Predict how even with the best of intentions these plans will fail. Build the antidote to that into your agreement.
Use the fair fight principles in the next section to guide your knowledge of where you might sabotage the plan. Build that knowledge into the plan as well.
1. Agree on a stop signal that both of you will respect. For example, make a process comment such as 'here we go again, let's stop before it gets out of hand'.
2. Self-soothe with calm breathing and distracting yourself.
More self-soothe techniques here. Then:
3. Apologize using I statements for the wrongdoing that YOU contributed, which allowed the fight to begin turning nasty again.
Avoid 'you' statements!
Do this WITHOUT RESTARTING THE FIGHT
4. Agree to continue exploring the issue/s underlying the dispute at a better time, when not tired or drinking.
5. Make a concrete and specific time to do that and honour it.
6. Recognize mistakes made that led to the stop sign being called. Set a procedure for addressing that moment next time it happens. Add it to the plan.
7. If the stop sign itself becomes part of the fight, then use an internal measure like this SUDS scale, for approaching the danger zone.
Do this so that each will know internally, when it is too unbearable to maintain principles of a fair fight, and go back to 3 above.
8. If that internal measurement also becomes a racket, then truly it is time to get help establishing a peace zone.
Principles of fair fight, constructive arguments:
1. Establish the ground rules and honour them.
2. Self-soothe and support calm deliberation rather than emotional escalation.
3. Express feelings with words, story and ownership i.e. 'I statements' and not with actions.
4. Be specific about what's bothering you and concrete about solutions proposed.
5. Deal with one issue at a time.
6. Don't hit below the belt nor aim to wound.
7. Avoid accusations and righteousness.
8. Don't generalize or pile on unrelated issues.
9. Stay real, avoid make believe.
10. Collaborate to prevent stockpiling, brooding and recycling issues.
11. Cooperatively manage patterns of withdrawal or clamming up, of stonewalling, of expressing contempt, making negative interpretations and wild generalizations.
12. If you are fighting to destroy every last real feeling you have for each other, forcing the other into the position of leaving, then you have probably shredded almost the last vestiges of your own dignity and self-respect.
From this place one can learn humility and forgiveness but it takes a big and tender heart.
13. Lay down your weapons; think and wait.
Slow down - family ahead!
What nourishes you may also destroy you. Yet within every peril is the seed of its cure.
14. Read another set of ground rules at the bottom of this page.
15. Constructive disagreement vs. fighting to win? Check your assumptions in the image below.
Fighting for consensus
There is so much to do and so little time in which to do it, so we must go slowly.
Never say no to a great idea simply because it is impossible. Schuller
Consensus is a process.
Each stake holder matters.
A decision is made. cartoon from slapupsidethehead.com - combatting bigotry with irony
Even if that means no decision at this time - it is a decision that each can live with, each fairly choosing to live with and one that can be reviewed.
- truth with oneself
- quality time
- honest dialogue
- even fierce conversation with neither being a part of the issue nor another person marginalized.
It's hard work.
No wonder we prefer majority rules and group think.
With a couple 'majority rules' is kind of crazy. A majority of one? And yet troubled relationships sound like a competition for the ascendancy of one person, or of one way.
They have become a strategic (exchange) relationship rather than an intimate (communal) one.
That is one form of the power struggle at turning points in a close relationship, be it partnering or parenting.
Empathy is the most effective method for sharing that power and rebuilding trust.
If you have come from a family, school and work environment where you were not encouraged to think for yourself, this process will involve more growing up.
Likewise if you have spent your life thinking for and pleasing others and not attending to your own thoughts and needs.
Consensus embraces dissent and difference. That inclusiveness gives confidence in bearing the cost of change.
Lacking consensus we cannot make important decisions jointly.
For example a decision to, stay in this dialogue until both of us feel understood, is a big ask without consensus.
Compromise, burying or forcing then become the rule rather than the exception.
The one who cares the most is most likely to compromise, bury or bend to the other's will.
This only works for so long. Then gridlock and impasse take over.
As a result more time and effort is spent on blame, distractions and appearances.
At about this time, some threaten to leave. Others renovate their home or apartment. Some have moved into the dream house only to discover it is filled with the baggage from the old one.
Some bring on the next child.
It all gets messy.
Sometimes some of these methods repair the problem - the right outcome for all the wrong reasons.
I must have saved clients collectively, millions of dollars over my 40 years as a therapist in their cancelled apartment and house renovations.
They grew something within themselves that they liked more.
The extra space is within.
For example, one couple who had been considering an extreme apartment makeover cancelled it, having repaired their 15 year marriage for about $1700 in my fees. A fraction of the design and building costs.
In Australia, a two seater leather recliner costs more than that.
Yet dear reader, you will not be surprised that the smaller expense (my fees) has the higher emotional cost and thus is usually last on the list of must haves.
The only thing we ever own are our actions.
Unable to stop the past intruding
Know the Universe as your self, and you can live absolutely anywhere in comfort.
Love the world as your self, and you'll be able to care for it properly. Tao Te Ching
Set an appointment each week and do the past pain thing in an agreed way for 90 minutes max.
Be guided by the fair fight principles above!!
Jointly manage the process to a conclusion at each session and over the whole time, in how ever many months it takes to get well with each other about the past.
Use all the skills for managing differences that you would at work, in your community, social or faith group.
Stick with small manageable issues, one at a time, until your skills as a couple are up to managing somewhat bigger relationship issues.
Big issues have lots of tentacles. Like a network of inter-connections.
Like a minefield.
In between sessions, put the lot back under the carpet until next week's agreed time.
If it is elephant sized, don't go near it until the next appointment.
If you can't leave it alone, get professional help as a couple - it's not a question of who hit who back first. It's systemic - somewhat like an in-law problem.
To do the above may not require a miracle, only updated skills.
Agree on what is a negative and what a positive interaction in your relationship.
Then count the frequency of each over a month.
Then decide how to reduce the negatives and increase the positives until the ratio of positive to negative is at least 5 positives to 1 negative.
Then, do that with less effort, in a sustainable way!
That may require a building better relationship courses such as one at Relationships Australia, or at Step families Australia.
The government portal Family Relationships Online has useful links.
Go for training as a couple and acquire the skills together, no matter who has the gold stars for communication. That is evidence of mutual good will, and of letting go. Then,
Organize a private hour with each other, each week for as many months/years as it takes to be well with each other.
This is sacred time.
Anticipate derailments and self-sabotage. Observe how these mishaps are co-created. Agree on how to deal with those troubles without blame or rancor, owning your part of the breakdown no matter who hit who back first'.
That is evidence of working together with what ever comes up.
Use this hour to take turns giving 20 minutes to each other.
No trading, not according to 'need' - all of the 20 minutes to each, each time. For example, giving your undivided attention to the other as they speak or sign (even cartoon, sing or dance) about experiences that are important to them today.
The speaker is to use 'I' statements wherever possible. The listener follows the other's breathing by synchronizing their breath with the speaker's.
Apart from mirroring breath and offering gentle eye contact, nodding or other non-verbal indications that the listener is attending, the only leading response allowed to the listener is something like, "is there any thing else you want to say about that?"
This is not a time for the speaker to beat up the listener, nor the listener to go digging for information, judging, criticizing, nor for either to later summarize nor inflict retribution for what occurred or didn't occur in each other's 20 minutes.
Emotions are multi layered
Both the reactive ones and the ones underneath them.
Anger, for example, often has fear behind it, despair has loneliness behind it. Few feelings arise alone, mostly they are a mixture of feelings more accurately called an emotion. Love is an emotion.
When your partner says they are feeling happy, sad, upset, excited (or the poorly differentiated version, 'you make me' feel happy, sad etc) ... ask kindly, 'how do you know you are feeling that' or 'what is happening in your head that tells you this' or 'what are the body sensations leading you to that conclusion'.
Sensations that are interpreted as anger, for example, may include hot, cold, fidgety, itchy, trembling, dry mouth, a sense of bursting, wanting to get out, to run, to fight, suffocating, drowning, etc?'
Then share with your partner the thoughts and sensations you have when you experience that same emotion in your body.
How could each convey and read this from body language alone? Remain mindful of your body sensations, which later coalesce into a feeling.
Pause a moment and think before reacting to your partner.
I always assume you won't understand, that you will jump to conclusions before you hear me out and have prepared your rebuttal before I finish speaking. In my movie we have our backs to each other turning snow balls to later throw. Every time I turn around your back is to me. I feel like screaming and in my movie I do until my legs give way and I fall into a heap on the ground and still you don't face me.
The other might share this,
in my movie you just go on and on, repeating what you have already said but more stridently each time as if I'm stupid. I assume this time is no different. I want to get away from you almost before my movie starts rolling. I imagine myself strangling you if I allow the movie to run its course. So I try and wrap it up quickly and get away or find a quick fix. In the end I imagine I am alone.
Without blame, own up to your assumptions about what you think is in the other's movie or what they are thinking, feeling or doing at the present time or during a recent event.
Do this before you react to your assumptions about what they are saying or doing at the moment or have just told you they had said, felt or did in a recent situation.
Describe the inner movie that informs your assumptions or pre-suppositions about their behavior.
Reason on its own, leads only to a conclusion not to movement. It is our emotions and the language we use to describe them that prompt action.
In almost any significant relationship decision (or indecision), emotion will always win out over reason when the two conflict.
Gently begin a conversation about the head and heart decisions that underlie your relationship's journey and its everyday life.
Do it in a way that shows respect and due care for the quiet emotions behind each other's choices. If you can't speak them, write them; draw; dance them; sing them; watch a DVD movie that resonates with them; find a poem or a play that speaks to those emotions.
Here some tips for describing emotion.
Witnessing - lights on nobody home
85% of those who learn to effectively repair these moments, stay happily married. Gottman.
I ask how much self-witnessing or mindfulness my troubled couples have when they make things worse.
Almost all report losing mindfulness and having almost zero witness present in the moments when they do the most damage, often over the smallest things.
Keeping at least 2% of awareness aside to observe our own behavior is achievable.
That 2% is the maximum genetic difference between us and chimpanzees and they can behave badly too.
When my clients start misbehaving in the office, they struggle against me as I try to pull them back into line. Much like the drowning who attempt to climb aboard the swimmer who has come to their aid.
Or like a child who carries a chronic psychosomatic illness for a dysfunctional family and is afraid to give up being sick in case the family falls apart without the focus on their illness.
I get their attention with a 'whoa, stop right there!'. I ask the couple to think about what they are inflicting on themselves and on each other.
I teach them how to pull back from the brink and repair the damage.
How to listen carefully and wisely.
How to think again.
How to soothe their own reactive emotions.
I reflect, you would never get away with that kind of behavior at work or with your best friend? So why drag each other through it at home. Why teach it to your kids and to your pets?
They nod agreement, whilst watching each other's claws.
They look a bit shame faced like parents on an episode of Super nanny, CAUGHT!
Most then come back to the work at hand, thinking what a bastard this therapist is.
And then, too soon for their nodding agreement to have meant much, they try it on again.
This goes on for some sessions but each time with a little less conviction, except for the 15% who don't make it.
Forgotten how to talk, laugh and play
When Betty is upset with Allan, she heads for the mall. Then they regroup and go on as if nothing's happened. Never in forty-five years of marriage have they sat down to have a 'dialogue' about their relationship.
While this may sound like a couple in trouble, Gottman found that they pass the love-lab tests and say honestly that they are both very satisfied with their relationship and they love each other deeply. Source
cartoon from slapupsidethehead.com - combatting bigotry with irony
This is not about having deep and meaningfuls!
Couples who thrive do engage in screaming matches.
They don't resolve every problem.
In this same frame of mind, write on each of seven slips of paper one kindly, appropriate and affordable surprise that you would like to receive from your partner.
The simpler the better.
Each exhibiting respect and due care.
Make the wish clear so that one can follow without asking for too much clarification.
Place all 14 in a cookie jar.
Then each week take turns pulling one out of the jar and follow the instructions therein. You might end up giving what you wanted to receive.
If you don't want that outcome, have two cookie jars and take turns picking an item from the each other's jar each week or fortnight.
Replenish with same or new at the end of each 14 weeks.
Here are 161 ideas to stimulate your imagination.
I heartily recommend Interplay as a safe, straightforward place to learn to meet again.
© Ziji Fox 2004-2012 All Rights Reserved peterfox.com.au
17 Ground rules for constructive fighting
I retrieved this excellent list from an unlikely source: tatsumi-girl on 01/02/2011
1. Don’t try to avoid confrontation at all costs. This results in piling up of unresolved anger and frustration on both parts. Sulking and denial do not accomplish anything and they hurt your partner because s/he might interpret your avoidance as lack of interest. Besides, bottled up frustration finds its way out, one way or another. If you don’t approach it openly, it will emerge as little ironic remarks, bickering and other not-so-cute unpleasantries.
2. Timing is important. Don’t start an argument just before you are supposed to go to bed or somewhere else. Arguing in front of other people, especially children, but also relatives and friends, is a very bad idea. Need an outside opinion? See a therapist – s/he will be thrilled to see you in action, and it will give you guys plenty of material to work on. Allow sufficient time to collect yourselves and to recover your composure after the fight.
3. Take the fight seriously and do not discount the importance of what is being discussed. Avoid irony all together. Do not hit below the belt and attack your partner’s relatives, friends, work or hobbies. Do not over-generalize (avoid “never” and “always” statements). Do not threaten with breakup or divorce as a means of intimidation. Try not to overreact and keep things in perspective.
4. Announce that you want to fight or discuss a touchy issue. Define clearly what you are fighting about. Examine if there are underlying issues. For example, when you fight over dishes, you might be really fighting about the distribution of power in your couple. If that is the case, address it directly.
5. Bringing up old conflicts or many new unrelated issues is a mistake that results in an overwhelmingly long, exhausting fight. Stay focused, and learn when enough is enough.
6. When handling disagreements, it pays off to first find common ground. Pointing out things that you can agree on creates a bridge and installs a working atmosphere that focuses on the common goal, rather than the disagreements.
7. Tell your partner clearly what is on your mind. Don’t try to hide your emotions. It’s normal to get emotional, and it’s healthy to let the emotions out, positive and negative. Play fair but tolerate and support emotional outbursts – this vulnerable time is an exceptional occasion for mutual support and bonding.
8. When arguing, do not attack your partner’s character, criticize specific behaviors. While character traits are difficult to change, specific behaviors are amenable to modification. Try to phrase your criticism in such a way that you express your disagreement with your partner’s action, as opposed to a character trait. For example, instead of saying, “You are such a lousy father”, say, “I disagree with the way you reprimand our kids because yelling scares them.” Or, instead of saying, “You never spend any time with me anymore,” say, “I miss spending time with you.”
9. Practice good listening. Don’t make assumptions and quick interpretations of your partner’s motives. In order to ensure correct understanding, rephrase your partner’s points in your own words. It may seem lame at first but you will see that some of your interpretations are way off. Rephrasing will help you to stay on track. If nothing else, at least you will be talking about the same thing.
10. Try to understand how your partner sees the situation. Put yourself in her/his shoes. Ask your partner for his version of the story and listen with an open mind. We tend to focus on our interpretation of events. We make hypotheses about our partners’ motives. And we might be wrong. Try to put yourself into your partner’s shoes and his/her points might become much clearer. You should understand that your partner has the right to see things differently, and even if her/his view of the situation seems skewed, his/her feelings are real. Validate them.
11. Paying your partner a compliment or expressing your appreciation for something s/he does well goes a long way. It takes off a lot of fume and enables the other person to accept criticism much more willingly. Praise your partner – tell him/her what you like about her/him. This is especially useful in the final phase of the fight, which should contain peace offering. It is a perfect transition back to normal and an opportunity to make the fight a positive experience.
12. While it is normal to get a little bit worked up during an argument, it is not a good idea to let it spin out of control and turn it into a shouting match where no listens anymore. When you get too furious, or when the argument gets out of control, take a break. It should be at least 20 min. Set a specific time, not too far away, for continuation.
13. Be ready to compromise. Unless it is a real bottom-line issue, you can find an arrangement. For instance, let’s say that your partner is grumpy when s/he get back home from work. It has been bothering you because you feel like it’s your fault. You confront him/her and realize that s/he does not really want to change anything about that; in a way, s/he enjoys her/him 30 min of grumping; and in any case, s/he would find it very difficult to control it. You might have doubts about this ritual grumping, but you cannot make him/her change his/her ways. What you can do, however, is to agree that the grumping ritual will be performed out of your eyesight – in a study, garage, workshop, bathroom or bedroom. That way, s/he can knock her/himself out with grumping, and you don’t get upset.
14. Admit your own mistakes. Take responsibility for your own actions. Your partner will become less defensive when s/he sees that you are not blaming everything on him/her.
15. Be open to suggestions. Try to view the arguing as an opportunity to grow. You are not perfect, neither is your partner. Since you fight anyway, why not turn it into a positive experience and help each other grow?
16. Do not withdraw prematurely by apologizing, pretending to agree with your partner’s stance or accepting blame and responsibility for something you haven’t done.
17. Some issues just can’t be solved in one fighting session. If you encounter such a complex issue (such as infidelity or power struggle), make sure that you both understand that the topic will have to be addressed again and again. Set a schedule and declare a cease-fire in between. Source