Facing rocky moments in your relationship is never easy. These are the moments that I got to witness last weekend, when I was at my friends’ party. They were throwing a birthday party for their toddler that included 10 children and over 25 adults. That type of a party comes with its own challenges.
Here’s what happened.
Mom was running around as if she was a headless chicken, and Dad opened his beer, getting into a fun conversation with his friends. Then, she gave him “THE LOOK” while serving a plate of appetizers, and managing a temper tantrum from her toddler! He lost his smile and conversation flow within seconds, and he put the beer down.
At that point, I am thinking to myself… “Oh boy! These are my dear friends. I sure hope that they can get through this one okay!”
He walked up to her, and she said, “I did it again, didn’t I? I gave you the death look… I could tell since your face changed! I’m about to lose it here, and blame you for it all.” He said “Yup, and I was about to get all upset with you, and tell you that you are putting it all on yourself (and me) with throwing such a big party, for a 3 year old.” They both said: “I guess we have to rewind, and start all over again, hmmm?”
From that moment, I knew they are going to be just fine!!! Not only that, they are going to grow as a couple.
In the moment of conflict and disconnection, they were able to disarm the tension within less than 3 minutes! Now, that is impressive and worth writing about! What made it possible for them to do that?
Here is what Sue Johnson—the author of “Hold Me Tight”—has to say about facing the rocky moments; she explained that people who feel secure with their partner find it easier to do this. “They can stand back and reflect on the process between them, and they can also own their part in that process. They can have differences, and rub each other’s trigger points yet not slide into anxious demand or numbing withdrawal.”
THEY CAN DEAL BETTER WITH THE DISORIENTING AMBIGUITY THAT THEIR LOVED ONE, WHO IS THE SOLUTION TO FEAR, CAN ALSO SUDDENLY BECOME A SOURCE OF FEAR. In other words, they can hold on to their emotional balance a lot more often and a lot more easily. That creates a platform for repairing rifts in their relationship and creating a loving connection.
What we know about distressed couples is that they don’t feel safe enough with each other to have this type of interaction. In fact, similar interaction can quickly turn into a snappy exchange, an explosive fight after the party, or even resentment. These couples are caught in emotional chaos, and they are seeing each other as threats, as enemies! These are also the couples that I see at Vibrant Couples & Family Counseling.
Here is a reminder of steps that might be helpful for couples to practice at moments like these (taken from Sue’s book):
- Stopping the Game (They both stopped the game—he approached her instead of ignoring her, and she didn’t defend herself about her giving him the death look).
- Claiming Your Own Moves (She admitted that she gave him the look, and he admitted that he could have blamed her).
- Claiming Your Own Feelings (She shared that she is “about to lose it,” and he shared that he was about to get upset).
- Owning How You Shape Your Partner’s Feelings (Her “look” shaped his fear of disappointing her and him talking to his friends triggered her overwhelmed and lonely feelings).
- Asking about Your Partner’s Deeper Emotions (I can only speculate what each of them felt…my best guess is that she felt overwhelmed and he felt anxious when he saw her look).
- Sharing Your Own Deeper, Softer Emotions (She could share her feelings of being overwhelmed, maybe even alone at times, and he could share his feelings of being afraid of disappointing her).
- Standing Together (After the party, they can turn this interaction into a bonding moment by sharing their emotional experiences. They can both sit down and talk about how beautifully they handled this moment that could have easily turned into hours of fighting!).