This one simple ‘trick’ could save your marriage.
Couples that come to see me because of constant fighting are usually locked in a particular pattern of conflict that neither partner seems able to break free of.
- One points the finger while the other storms off.
- Both partners verbally attacking one other, neither refusing to back down.
- The silent standoff that simmers away and never really gets resolved.
Identifying the pattern and understanding where the behaviour is coming from is the first step in breaking the cycle. This is where counselling can shed some light and help you see things from your partner’s point of view.
In fact, seeing things from the other person’s point of view is the best way to prevent any argument, and is always the first thing I ask my clients to do.
Louisa and Jose, a couple I’ve been working with for the past few months, came into my office the other day excited to tell me the good news.
On the weekend they’d had a huge fight. Louisa did something she had never done before – she left the house refusing to tell Jose where she was going or when she would be back (this is not the good news, by the way!)
During the text message war that ensued, Louisa said she suddenly had a moment of clarity. It was a voice in the back of her head telling her that she would be furious if Jose had stormed out on her like that. It would have left her feeling hopeless, worried, angry and scared. Louisa was overcome with sadness at the realisation.
At that moment their argument changed. The next message Louisa sent to Jose was to reassure him that she had gone to the local mall to spend time calming down, that she was okay and that she loved him. Jose sent a message straight back telling Louisa that he too needed to calm down so he was off to the gym.
Regardless of how angry or ‘right’ Louisa felt in that moment, her ability to see things from Jose’s point of view meant he felt ‘seen’ and deeply understood, his anger subsidised and the argument was instantly diffused.
The simple act of putting herself in Jose’s shoes allowed Louisa to rebuild the connection so they could resolve the conflict and move on.
Once we start to make a conscious effort to change our old patterns it becomes easier to catch ourselves before we say something we know will trigger an argument.
By asking yourself, ‘should I be doing this?’ you can reframe the situation, alter your words and change the outcome.
Of course you might still have the urge to carry on with your old familiar behaviour – that’s why they’re called patterns, and patterns can be hard to break. But something big has happened – you now have awareness.
You know there’s another way of behaving – you just have to choose it.
Not all turning points in arguments have to come about because of a deep sense of empathy like we saw in Louisa and Jose’s case. You and your partner can find other ways to reframe the argument.
You could try using one of these statements next time you find yourself getting into a heated discussion:
- I’m feeling criticised, can you rephrase that?
- This is really important to me and I need to know you’re listening
- So what you’re saying is…
- I understand, you feel….
- I get your point of view
You might even have a code word that signals the conversation is getting out of hand and you need time out before you can resume the discussion. The important thing is that you are both able to work your way back to a feeling of repair in whatever way works for you as a couple.
It takes practice, but learning to reframe your words can turn a potential argument into a positive and worthwhile conversation. You should be able to put any issue on the table and see it as a problem to be solved together, as opposed to making it all one person’s responsibility.
Seeing things from your partner’s point of view sounds simple enough but it can be super challenging to do in the heat of the moment. But if you’re serious about ending the fights once and for all, it’s the best way to validate your partner’s response and create a deeper connection.
And who doesn’t want that?