How do I stay connected to my partner during a fight?

Dear Lisa,

After some really BAD relationships, I have finally met a loving, caring man who I trust and want to be with.

But… he is human (and so am I), and sometimes we have fights…Nothing too bad, just raised voices, getting angry, tension etc. We do usually end up talking, trying to understand each other, and then it goes back to normal. However while the tension and raised voices are high, my mind tends to go to all sorts of scenarios that want to break the relationship. I’m sure it’s fear, and being uncomfortable with confrontations, however knowing that still doesn’t help me with wanting to run.

How do I gracefully ride the ‘downs’ of relationships and not try to plan the escape route?

–The Runner ( ♀ Toronto)


 

Dear The Runner,

I am making the assumption that by ‘a history of BAD relationships’, you experienced unsupportive partners who didn’t remain connected to you at all times. And after what I can only imagine is a history of loveless conversations and fights, you have not only gotten skilled at putting up walls, but actually numbed yourself to the effect of your words and and your partners words, giving yourself very little accountability to the relationship and hence the option of running. Even without baggage like past partners and old habits, it a natural instinct to react to the pain of a fight commonly known as the fight, or flight response. However, as conscious human beings, we (thankfully!) have more options.

There is a great book called The Self-Centred Marriage: The Revolutionary ScreamFree Approach to Rebuilding your “We” by Reclaiming Your “I”, by Hal Edward (and Jenny) Runkel and your situation reminds me of one of my favorite quotes regarding fights:

In order to steel yourself in the fires of marriage, you have to learn to keep your cool. As you undoubtedly know by now, the Scream Free philosophy is ultimately about learning to keep your cool, staying calm and connected, no matter what. This means holding on to your truest self, steeling yourself, even as you embrace the conflict at hand. It means creating a pause for yourself, between stimulus and reaction. That is the essence of what it means to be ScreamFree – pausing just enough to make an authentic, hope-filled, intimacy-pursuing choice (I LOVE this part! This is where you choose response over reaction). Without this pause, we have little chance to attain our deepest desires and little chance to act from our highest principles. Without this pause, we are far to easily controlled by the anxiety of the moment and the fear of the unknown. The ScreamFree way makes us willing to embrace the fires of conflict, and at the same time calmly pursue what we want most for ourselves and our spouse (ie: becoming accountable). This way turns each fire from a destructive force into a refining one, a refining fire that can shape each spouse into a stronger and more authentic self, and thus create the possibility of true intimacy between two whole people.

So how do you respond instead of react? I suggest radical vulnerability. I want you to imagine that you are two parts to one whole person, the ‘YOU’ who asked this question and the physical ‘you’ who is the medium between the ‘YOU’ and the world. So there are ‘YOU’ and ‘you’. Following?

Good. Lets say that ‘you’ are generally responsible for reactions and ‘YOU’ are responsible for responses. The key, then, is to give ‘YOU’ a moment to give ‘you’ some instruction instead of just letting the ‘stimulus/reaction’ situation play out. Imagine that there is a balcony just up and behind ‘you’. This is where ‘YOU’ stand (maybe right beside the ‘YOU’ of your partner). From here you can see what ‘you’ are doing, how ‘you’ react or respond, etc. ‘YOU’ are capable of seeing every bit of both of your pain during a fight and what you are both doing in reaction to it. ‘YOU’ are big enough to then connect to the ‘authentic, hope-filled, intimacy-pursuing choice’ by lowering the wall in front of you and really becoming vulnerable to what you and your partner are saying to each other. In other words, when the impulse to run arises, choose respond instead of react; try instructing ‘you’rself to take a step forward and be vulnerable to the fight, which is one step closer to the one you love.

– Lisa

 


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