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Never concede a point (how to start and continue a fight) (DW#304)

The difference between happy and miserable couples is not that the former don’t argue or fight. What keeps some couples happy is that they learn to make and accept repairs in the middle of an argument.

Couples who are high conflict and distressed on the other hand, never concede a point to their partner. One or both of them have the need to be right – often at the cost of the relationship.

If the couple under discussion learnt to concede a point to the other, here is what their conversation might sound like:

She: [Still calming down from the "you’re not firm enough" side-issue. Considers arguing with whether she needs to be "10% firmer," but thinks better of it.]
You’re right, I did say I’d keep things cleaner. I didn’t realize you only care about the living room. That’s doable. But I have to tell you, I want more respect about how I do discipline her, and how hard it is to be on top of her mess making all day.

Notice that this couple is...

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Make demands and threats (how to start and continue a fight) (DW#303)

When things get heated up, it is tempting to make demands from, and threats to, the other person.

When the husband demands Leave my family out of this! The wife is more likely to focus on the threat to her autonomy from this demand and it is very likely to divert attention from the topic at hand.

Similarly, when we make threats, empty or real, (Or I’ve about had it!) it sends the other person into defense mode, their thinking brain shuts down and they are actually incapable of hearing the underlying message or need.

What could this couple do instead?

If they were mindful of their communication, their reactions and the words that they spoke, here is what the conservation might sound like.

He: [Wants to fire back but has learned that the impulse to do so is actually a kind of big, flashing warning in his mind to PAUSE AND BUY SOME TIME until he has calmed down] Hmmm. Let me think about that for a minute. [Discreetly takes a few big breaths. Thinks about whether he’s gone...

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Insult and launch a character attack (how to start and continue a fight) (DW# 302)

One of the most effective ways to start and keep a fight going is to insult the other person and launch a character attack.

For example, the wife in the example said Such a jerk to her husband when they started arguing about the mess.

Long after an argument is over, such insults linger in the mind and keep burning like a mixture of emotional glue and gasoline. So damaging are such insults, that frequent use of such language qualifies as emotional abuse, a grinding assault on the other person’s sense of worth.

The husband in the example reacted to this with his own character attack on his wife when he said: You can’t talk without getting hysterical.

The use of the word hysterical to describe her behaviour was an attack on her character rather than a comment on her behaviour.
She can do little to change his opinion of what constitutes hysteria.

If he had said, on the other hand, Please lower your voice. It is hard for me to hear what you are saying when you raise your...

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Minimize or mock a complaint (how to start and continue a fight) (DW#301)

One of the worst things we can do when someone makes a complaint in a relationship is to minimize it, or even worse, to mock the complaint by our words or actions.

When the wife in the scenario that we are discussing complained that the husband does not help with cleaning up the mess, he minimized and mocked her complaint by picking up one tiny thing and then saying: There,I helped. Now are you happy?

This is an example of Reductio ad absurdem "Reducing to absurdity" which deflates others by making their wish, complaint, or idea sound silly or foolish.

We can also minimize a complaint by saying something like: Why are you making such a big deal about something so little?

Not only is this kind of response to a complaint minimizing and hurtful, it devalues our partner and what is important to them.

Not a great way to build a relationship.

If you wanted to repair the interaction on the other hand, try understanding the meaning and feeling behind the complaint instead.

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Lead with the negative (how to start and continue a fight) (DW#297)

The first issue with the exchange is leading with the negative. The husband made his entrance and said "What a mess"!

Dr. John Gottman, the renowned relationship expert, believes that if the start-up of a conversation is harsh, the conversation will go downhill from there and will generally not end well. If the first statement is negative, the other person will feel attacked and go into defence mode.

What could the husband have done instead?
He could have started by connecting first.

Here is what it would look like:

He: [Walks through the front door. Sees the mess, feels like grumbling, but thinks better of it. Takes a big breath. Kisses wife on the cheek, picks up his daughter and jiggles her in his arms while she giggles and makes him laugh. Smiles at wife.] How’d it go? [They chat for a few minutes. He says something nice about what she did that day. There’s a pause, and he takes the plunge.] I don’t want to hassle you, but could we talk about the clutter?

...

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The foolproof way to have a fight (DW#296)

Whether a relationship is strong, fulfilling and healthy (or not) depends to a significant amount, on the quality of the daily interactions between the people who form the relationship.

What happens during these interactions and communication exchanges on a day to day basis determines the emotional climate of the relationship over time which in turn determines whether or not the people in the relationship feel connected and happy.

Having positive interactions and good communication does not mean that the relationship is free of conflict. Relationship experts agree that to have a relationship free of (apparent) conflict is neither desirable nor healthy. In fact, many would argue that the presence of conflict is an opportunity to grow as an individual and for the relationship to become more intimate as well.

The conflict, does of course, need to be handled skillfully in order for this to happen.

Let’s take a common example from family life to understand this better. The...

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Why bother?

Continuing our discussion from yesterday about not confusing listening with giving advice.

Here is a poem:

Why Bother?
Yesterday you asked as you passed
How I was
Without stopping to hear me say
"I'm feeling down."
You never even turned around
As you quickly walked away.

Today you stop to ask how I am;
My answer is quite real:
"I'm feel blue . . . "
You retort before I'm through,
"Don't feel that way,
Everything will be okay!"

These words I ponder,
At your insensitivity wonder;
You keep right on talking
While I go on hurting;
"Have a good day!" you say
As again you walk away.

Joy E. Walker Steward,1997

Just for today, can we intend to listen to someone who is attempting to express pain or hurt? Can we simply be present, be a witness to their pain or frustration and simply try to understand it?

It won't kill us, I promise.

AND it may just save their (emotional) life.

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Listening is uncomfortable

Listening to somebody express their needs, their problems, their pain, their frustration or sadness is not easy and it is not fun. It touches your heart, makes you anxious and you want to make it all better.

As soon as possible.

And so you start offering solutions to make the other person feel better…

"Cheer up. Its not so bad."
"Look on the bright side"
"Be grateful. There are so many people who have it much worse"
"Be positive. Its all in your mind."
"Don't be sad (or angry, or upset, or frustrated or whatever). It will get better soon".

A question for you: how is that working out for you and for your relationship?

Does the person thank you for your wisdom, calms down, takes your advice and becomes cheerful?

No, I didn't think so.

Here's the thing: there is a time for listening and a time for offering support, guidance or advice.

And you generally have to do one before you can do the other.

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10 tools to calm ourselves

 

Let's review the tools we have explored to become less reactive and to develop emotional and mental balance.

Here they are, available as always, in the Daily Wisdom archives

#1 Aim for mental and emotional balance
#2 Develop a mantra
#3 Be like Teflon
#3 Live in a bubble
#4 Don't take it personally
#5 Be an observer
#6 Have an inner smile
#7 Expand your awareness
#8 Notice the gift of the rain puddle
#9 Seek understanding and be curious
#10 Meditate, even a little

Which have you tried? Which ones are working for you?

Do you have others? If so, do share!

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Meditate, even a little

We cannot really talk about calming down and developing emotional balance without mentioning meditation. So today's practice to develop equanimity is: Learn to meditate, even just a little.

Meditation means so many different things to different people and it is such a deep topic that we won't get into details here, but the essence of meditation is training your mind and your attention, disentangling it from thoughts and emotions and observing one's experience as it happens.

Taking just a few minutes a day to become silence, look inward and tune into what is happening in our internal world can foster peace of mind and the perspective needed for equanimity.

Meditation works best if it is consistently practiced in small doses over time. Think of it like a vitamin and not a Tylenol. Just like a vitamin can increase physical wellbeing and immunity over time, meditation gradually increases emotional wellbeing and stamina.

Meditation practiced consistently over time reprograms our brains...

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