Monday, November 06, 2017

What Our Arguments Are Really About

This past weekend we took a course called Hold Me Tight. It is a program that focuses on Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT). It is the idea that we are dependent on one another for attachment needs (comforting, protecting and nurturing) just as a child is on a parent. It includes working on our emotional connection through being open, attuned and responsive. Here I am touching on the arguments that we have and why we have them which is just one aspect of the course. I found it insightful and I hope you do too.

There I am rage-folding the laundry. Fold roughly. Sigh. Huff. Fold roughly. Sigh. Huff. What has just happened? Well, from the outside it looks like something like this:

Why do we argue so much? How can we work through our conflicts? Using the Hold Me Tight method.

Me (Coming into the house at 7 PM after a long day which ended in grocery shopping): Can you help me with the groceries, please?

Him (Finishing something up on the computer): In a second.

Me: Nevermind. I'll do it myself. Did you switch over the laundry?

Him: Uh...not yet.

Me: Why do I have to do everything? I feel like all I do is remind, remind, remind. Why is it so hard to remember one thing?

Him (Silent, not moving).

Me (Seeing the silence and feeling like he does not care): I have been running around all day and haven't had time to myself. I need to get this done so I can relax. What are you doing? Just playing Candy Crush?

Him (Leaves the room).

Me (Puts groceries away slamming cupboards, stomping downstairs to get laundry, and then rage-folding it while wondering why no one listens to me and considering if I am really unreasonable. He thinks I'm crazy, am I?)

This is our "dance". It doesn't happen often but it is what we do when things build up–I'm not normally this reactive and rude. I will say something or bring up a concern and don't feel heard so I push and prod to get a response, any response. This makes me angrier as I see him shutting down which comes across as ignoring me and seemingly not hearing my concern. Other couples often argue in this manner or may have an approach where both are yelling or both walking away from each other in silence (which may be the most dangerous).

So, what is really going on here?  

It comes down to a need for safe emotional attachment. I am most afraid that my needs won't be seen, heard or validated. What do I need? I need Gary to affirm my feelings with something like "Wow, you have done so much today, thank you for going grocery shopping" and ask "How can I help you?". In turn, he has his own fears which includes failure that requires a different response and action. Making him feel inadequate is one of the worst things that I can do.

What is the conversation going on beneath the surface?

With my yelling I am actually saying "Are you here for me? Can I count on you? Do I matter to you? Will you answer?" Now why I don't use those actual words is because I expect him to know how I must be feeling. It's also having to be vulnerable to say them because what if the answer isn't what I need?

What is his silence actually saying? "MAYDAY MAYDAY! I can't do this! This is too much for me. I'm a failure." The one who shuts down is often the one with the elevated heart rate and blood pressure. Although he may look calm about it, there is a lot going on inside and I'm not actually being ignored.

Just like children, we need to feel a deep attachment. 

We need to know that they are our safe haven and that they will be there for us no matter what in the way in which we need. This need is just like a child with it's parents and we still need this as adults. We should actually speak the words to our partners letting them know what our greatest fears are and in turn how they can meet these needs. This may take some time to reflect on what we are most afraid of and then there will be the vulnerability in sharing it.

There will be raw spots.

Raw spots are the "thing" that cause your partner to go from 0 to 60 in a second. For me, it happens if I feel dismissed and unimportant. Saying "Don't stress about it" or "Just calm down" are some of the worst things someone could say to me. For Gary it may be if I second guess his decisions – he may already be afraid of failure and I'm not helping. An example that comes up frequently in our marriage is me trusting his driving and decisions around that. This is hard for me because I like to control a lot of what goes on and I'm doing it in a light-hearted manner but he does not see it that way. Try to discuss the raw spots that you have so that your partner is more aware.

We are created for connection. Emotional connection is key in our relationships.

As quoted in the book Created for Connection, it says "When marriages fail, it is not increasing conflict that is the cause. It is decreasing affection and emotional responsiveness...".

We are more isolated than ever before so the need for the emotional connection is key in our lives. 

As a starting point for understanding each other more, here is what is recommended:
  • Tune in to your own needs and then let your partner be aware of them. 
  • Let them know your greatest fear(s) and how they can help to reassure you in a clear, simple manner. 
  • Share the raw spots that you are very sensitive about so that these can be avoided in the future or approached in a very careful manner.
  • Understand that your partner needs to feel that you are a safe place where they will be heard, known, loved and that it is okay to fail. Let them know you understand.
  • Recognize when you are in the argument/stage of prodding and withdrawing–this is the enemy, not your partner. This is huge because you can stop and bring things down and look at what is going on below the surface. 
  • Approach all of these conversations in soft and gentle manner for effectiveness. 

The danger we have experienced is that if one person's emotional needs are continually not met in the way that they need, then what they offer in return is also less than par. It is a downward cycle which impacts all areas of a marriage. Our relationship is fine but we want it to be good and eventually great. I would encourage you to make your partner a priority and if you feel like some professional help would be useful, that you seek it.  Our relationships are a lot of work but they are worth it. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.


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What our arguments are really about. We have the need for a safe emotional connection.

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