One of the most common concerns that bring couples into my office for counselling is to get help with improving their communication and stop fighting with each other as often. While every couple has disagreements, it’s when those arguments escalate into attacks against each other that it becomes a toxic communication pattern that can erode the trust, respect and intimacy in a relationship. So, knowing how destructive fights are for a relationship, how do we change this pattern for the better?
1. Fight the problem, not your partner
When changing a toxic communication pattern, it’s important to work together to identify the “fight” pattern, separate it from the relationship, and not let it turn the two of you against each other. In a healthy argument, your partner isn’t the problem – they are your ally in finding the solution to that argument.
By separating out the pattern, you make sure that you’re both on the same page and supporting each other in the fight. Not only are you now fighting side-by-side rather than against each other, but you’re also confirming what you’re fighting for in the first place – each other!
Work together to identify times when the pattern shows up, what it looks like and whether it builds up slowly or goes from “0 to 100” in seconds. By identifying the problem that we want to change it makes it easier to change it.
2. Interrupt the fight and take a break
Before you build a new pattern of communication, you’ve got to stop the damage of the old one. How many times have you said something hurtful in the heat of the moment only to regret it later? Make an agreement to identify the old pattern when it shows up so you can pause the conversation before hurting each other. You can agree on a code word or phrase, or just say “the old pattern is showing up, let’s take a break”.
Taking a break is important even if we think we don’t need one. When a fight gets triggered, our body’s natural “fight-or-flight” response can kick in and flood our brain with hormones and chemicals that get in the way of respectful dialogue. It can take 20 to 30 minutes for our brains to get out of fight mode, so give yourselves at least that long before checking back in.
3. Check in and reconnect with your teammate
Setting a check-in time when you take a break reassures your partner that you’re still willing to finish the conversation and hear their side of the story. It also builds trust by making a commitment to each other and proving it when you follow through on time. Knowing that it will take some time to cool off, I recommend at least an hour, but it can be longer if needed. Sometimes it’s good to “go to bed angry” and resolve the conversation respectfully in the morning.
By following these steps you can ensure that when you continue the conversation, it’s on a foundation for a new communication pattern that is built on respect and caring for one another.
To learn more about how to improve your communication with your spouse, give Jericho a call to book a complimentary consultation today at 604 · JERICHO (537 · 4246).
The following blog postings have been helpful for many of our clients and may be of interest to you, too. Please note that they do not replace professional support and assistance. If you find yourself in crisis, please reach out to support resources in your community.