By: Cristina Trette
All couples fight from time to time. Yet, the way couples fight, and what they do after a fight, is important. When couples with strong a strong bond fight, they know how to repair their relationship afterward. They are able to reflect on their struggles and set an intention to learn and grow. They also know how to turn to each other for comfort. The relationship is a stress reducer and source of soothing and support.
For other couples, when fighting, there is a focus on winning or standing their ground instead of working toward mutual understanding. They do not know how to mend the relationship or reconnect after they fight. They may avoid bringing up certain topics, walk on eggshells, or avoid each other, in an effort to avoid fighting. The relationship itself is a large source of stress and negativity dominates their interactions.
Most couples fall somewhere in between. And almost all couples can benefit from exploring what happens during and after fights.
Keep reading to discover ways to create more connection and less stress in your love relationship.
1. Remember that your partner is not the enemy
If you were to be attacked by an angry man on a dark street, you would want to get away as fast as possible or defend yourself if physically provoked. Our fight/flight/freeze response is vital to our survival.
Unfortunately, our nervous system can respond to loved ones as if they are a threat. When couples fight, often they are thrown into fight/flight/freeze and begin to see each other as enemies.
A great place to start shifting the way you fight is for you and your partner to remind each other you are on the same team. The two of you will want to team up against the fight itself.
2. Be aware of The Tipping Point
The Tipping Point is the critical point in a situation in which a significant, and often unstoppable, effect takes place.
For example, my partner and I will be talking and everything is going well. Then he says something that does not fit for me. I become noticeably upset and get quiet. He senses something is off. He reaches for me but I ignore him so he becomes cold. Then I attempt to reconnect but he is not ready for that so he stays distant. Then I get frustrated so I ask him what is wrong with an unpleasant tone. Then he responds nothing with an equally unpleasant tone. Then our voices get louder. And bam! Before we know it we are arguing. Our heart rate has increased, our bodies are tight and tense, we have scowls on our face. And we may say things that are not holding each other in high regard. All of this can take place under a minute!
And we are not the only ones! This kind of situation happens to almost all couples from time to time.
Being able to prevent the tipping point takes time and effort.
3. Be responsive
When you start to notice that tension or anger is rising, some ways to prevent yourself from reaching the tipping point are:
4. Focus on protecting your relationship instead of protecting yourself
It makes sense that you want to protect yourself. Unfortunately when both partners are over focused on protecting self instead of protecting the relationship, they tend to move further and further apart.
Protecting self needs to be balanced with protecting the relationship. This is a radical shift from what many of us have been taught to do.
One way to do this is to ask each other out loud when a fight is brewing, "What can we need to do to protect our relationship right now? And see what you come up with.
5. Agree to pause when needed
Sometimes we only need to pause for a moment or a few minutes. Often times we need more time than that.
You and your partner can work together to help each other pause. The idea is that you will both agree to step away from the fight, soothe yourself and each other, and come back together when you are both emotionally balanced.
Coming up with a plan for pausing together helps to ensure that the break itself does not push you over the tipping point.
6. Repair and reconnect
Being able to repair the relationship after the fight is one of the most important predictors of relationship satisfaction.
If you end up reaching the tipping point regardless of your best attempts to avoid this, it will be very important to find a way to reach for each other afterwards.
This is a time to express your own feelings or remorse over what you said or did. Ask for and give reassurance.
Hold each emotionally and physically.
7. Circle back to the issue once you are back to balance
After repair and reconnection, make sure that you follow up with each other.
Something triggered this fight! Sweeping it under the rug in an attempt to avoid fighting again will not be a good long-term strategy.
Sometimes you really do need to work through a problem. So plan a good time to talk if if needed.
Many couples find that after repair and connection, what they were fighting about becomes completely irrelevant. In fact, on an unconscious level, many couples fight just to get connection. Once the need for connection is filled, the fight dissolves.
Lastly, if you find that your fights are becoming more and more escalated and hurtful or if you cannot seem to repair after fights, it may be helpful to get some guidance from a couples therapist or attend a couples workshop. I am here to support you in creating the best relationship possible.
Hello! I am Cristina Trette. I am a Couples Therapist, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and Certified in Perinatal Mental Health. I write on all things related to relationships, parenthood, and connection.