Couples, Marriage and Relationship Counseling Issues: Reactivity

Conflicts get fueled when one partner unconsciously reacts to the other partner’s behavior, and then the snowball starts. It accumulates, picks up speed, and, before you know it, the snowball is mammoth and careening down the mountain towards an imminent destruction of whatever lies in its path. Let’s work on ways to keep the snowball palm-sized.

1. When one person is angry or upset, watch your reactions. Are you able to be aware of your emotions and your tendencies to make the situation worse? What do you traditionally do or say, or, rather, what would your partner say that you do to contribute to their reactivity. If asked, what would they experience you doing to them that fans their flames, so to speak?

2. Be present to the feeling, not the thoughts, that arise in your body. 99.9% of the time, relationship partners speak from the head, which, for guys, is “natural and normal”, yet makes it all worse. When you’re angry, are you really angry? What does your body have to say about it. Are you heating up – in your chest, in your stomach, in your head? Stay with that feeling, and try to not figure out why it’s there. Stay in your body, and speak from wherever in your body is heating up. It’s a more direct experience of what’s going on, instead of talking from your head and messing things like you’re used to.

3. Take a breath. Hug your partner. Throw a joke into the mix (not one which might hurt your mate). The idea is to de-fuse the situation, and stop the snowball from careening down that mountain. If you can reset, start over, and depressurize from all that accumulated negative energy you both have helpd to create, you’ll have a better perspective on the argument. Most of the times, couples forget what they’ve been arguing about in the first place, and lose themselves in the details. So, breath, step out of yourself for a second, and stay present without avoiding your partner.

Try these tips to help you fight fair, and have more productive conflict. The fact that you want to argue with awareness says you care about the relationship, and even if those things don’t work, they will the next time. With persistence, keep going, and keep trying.

About Jason

As "The Man That Men Will Talk To," Jason Fierstein, MA, LPC is a private practice counselor and psychotherapist for men and couples in the greater Phoenix, Arizona, area. He works with struggling men to find happiness in their lives, and with their wives.
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