The Hot Headed Couple’s Guide to Keeping Your Cool in a Fight

Humbling, isn’t it?couple-arguing

There you are, you and your perfectly otherwise sane spouse arguing, yet again, about…what? The quickest route to the freeway? The proper way to stack dish towels? Whose fault it is that you’re even having an argument?

It’s enough to make you, well, crazy, right?

Let me guess. You’ve had this same fight, what… ten thousand times? And each time you wind up at the same miserable dead end: worn out, frustrated, wondering if the two of you were put on earth just to drive each other nuts.

What’s worse, you know it’s utterly pointless. Or at least one part of you knows. Only, that part takes a vacation when you need it the most.

You’ve heard it, right… that little voice in your head telling you — no begging you — to just quiet down?

It’s not worth it, it tells you. Take a deep breath. Why bother getting yourself all in a twist?

Of course, you ought to calm down! Of course, you ought to unhook!

But, but… another voice argues, and the next thing you know, you’re full-on sucked in.

Think you married the wrong person?
Worried it’s hopeless?

Probably not.

Remember — all couples have conflict. There’s no getting around it. And much of our conflict is about nothing that matters.

Marriage is challenging and we’re all, in our own ways, difficult to live with.

Yes, even you.

Granted, you may be married to someone who has even more trouble staying steady than you do. Maybe you married a screamer or door slammer, or someone who goes silent and just shoots dirty looks. Or you married a blamer or name caller with too short a fuse. Maybe, by comparison, you look like a saint.

Then again, maybe you are the firecracker and your spouse is, at least sometimes, the cool-headed one.

Either way, even the most hot-tempered among us can learn to dial down the heat.

Here’s how:

1. Take charge.

The good news is that only one of you needs to know how to calm down in order to keep a fight from spiraling up. It’s impossible to have a good rollicking fight when one person is taking slow deep breaths and keeping her feet on the ground. Add zipping her lips, and no matter how worked up the other is getting, without fuel the quarrel will fizzle out.

2. Hold your tongue.

Don’t think that just because you’re angry you have to “let it all out.” Our words and actions have an impact. When fired-up, we’re more likely to be mean, to exaggerate, to take aim with an intention to hurt.

58277187114323522856Though there’s no evidence that couples who fight are more likely to divorce than couples who don’t, fighting that leads to bitterness, resentment and a sense of futility erodes a couples goodwill, which over time may well lead to divorce.

If you’re getting nasty, take a time-out before you do damage.

3. Acknowledge your limits: When one or both of you are agitated, know that you’re in the “getting worked-up phase,” not the “working it out phase.” When heated, we’re unreasonable — as in unable to reason. Once threatened, as we are during a conflict, the rational part of our brain is overpowered by the fight-or-flight part of our brain and we’re more reptile than human. We can’t work things out when we’re focused on our survival rather than on making up.

4. HALT.

Borrowed from my friends in AA, HALT stands for hungry, angry, lonely and tired — the four states of high vulnerability. When you’re hungry, tired, and, I’ll add stressed out, you’re going to be much less resilient and therefore less able to keep your reactivity in check. Rather than continue to rev up, take a brisk walk, eat a sandwich, or go take a nap.

5. Read the signs.

Though tension can (and often does) mount quickly, if you pay close attention, you’ll learn to recognize when your anxiety is ratcheting up. Maybe your thoughts swirl or you feel dizzy or sweat rolls down your back. Or you get tingly and feel like jumping out of your skin. The sooner you start calming yourself, the more successful you’ll be. It’s much harder, though not impossible, to get ahold of yourself when you’re almost ready to blow.

6. Sometimes it’s you:

If you’re the one getting agitated, pause to reflect on what’s getting you so bent out of shape. Yes, your partner left the milk out on the counter again, but why go through the roof?

Keep in mind that the more fired-up you are the more likely it is that your upset in the present is being fueled by old hurts and feelings from your past. Say you were viewed as the family troublemaker or told you were needy or demanding or not very smart. Arguments with your spouse are likely to ignite those old wounds. Yes, your spouse may be frustrating, but it’s your responsibility to become less reactive and address the injuries you brought with you from the past.

7. Sometimes it’s not:

If your partner is escalating, do your best to keep calm. Often, we make a bad situation worse by making inflammatory comments (Oh brother! Here you go again… what’s your problem now?) or mistakenly thinking we need to “fight back.” Instead of arguing or defending yourself or lobbing grenades, trying slowing things down.

You might say, This is going downhill. Let’s take a break. Or, Let’s back up and try it again. Or, I see you’re really upset. I want to be helpful but it’s hard when you’re yelling.

Know that you’re not responsible for your partner’s escalations. You’re only responsible for what you say and do.

8. Ban the bombs.

do-not-enterWe all know the hot-button words that we ought to avoid, the words that always add fuel to an already simmering fire. Saying, you’re being stubborn or you’re not listening are a bad idea at my house. Many people find that being told to calm down makes them see red. Every couple has their own set of off limits phrases that, if they’re smart, they’ll aim to avoid.

9. Lighten up.

Sometimes the best move is to do something funny or surprising to help you unhook. Why not wave a white dish towel or speak in a foreign accent? One client said she refused to keep fighting with words and switched to funny faces and hand gestures, which made the two of them laugh. One of my husband’s most disarming moves is to take my hands and say, Let’s dance.

10. Accept imperfection.

Don’t bother aiming for sainthood or marital bliss. No matter how steady you become, you and your partner will still have fights. Remember, the goal isn’t to have a conflict-free marriage but to stop your fights a little bit sooner, be a little less reactive, and more willing to own your part in the mess.

Now, over to you. What have you found to cool off your fights?

________________________________________________

Looking to have a more satisfying marriage? Get my free bonus article:
75 Ways To Improve Your Relationship Starting Today — plus new blog posts delivered straight to your inbox!
(Use the Sign-up button on the right or below.)

For news and inspiring cool stuff about relationships, follow me on twitter: @winifredmreilly

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The Hot Headed Couple’s Guide to Keeping Your Cool in a Fight

Humbling, isn’t it?couple-arguing

There you are, you and your perfectly otherwise sane spouse arguing, yet again, about…what? The quickest route to the freeway? The proper way to stack dish towels? Whose fault it is that you’re even having an argument?

It’s enough to make you, well, crazy, right?

Let me guess. You’ve had this same fight, what… ten thousand times? And each time you wind up at the same miserable dead end: worn out, frustrated, wondering if the two of you were put on earth just to drive each other nuts.

What’s worse, you know it’s utterly pointless. Or at least one part of you knows. Only, that part takes a vacation when you need it the most.

You’ve heard it, right… that little voice in your head telling you — no begging you — to just quiet down?

It’s not worth it, it tells you. Take a deep breath. Why bother getting yourself all in a twist?

Of course, you ought to calm down! Of course, you ought to unhook!

But, but… another voice argues, and the next thing you know, you’re full-on sucked in.

Think you married the wrong person?
Worried it’s hopeless?

Probably not.

Remember — all couples have conflict. There’s no getting around it. And much of our conflict is about nothing that matters.

Marriage is challenging and we’re all, in our own ways, difficult to live with.

Yes, even you.

Granted, you may be married to someone who has even more trouble staying steady than you do. Maybe you married a screamer or door slammer, or someone who goes silent and just shoots dirty looks. Or you married a blamer or name caller with too short a fuse. Maybe, by comparison, you look like a saint.

Then again, maybe you are the firecracker and your spouse is, at least sometimes, the cool-headed one.

Either way, even the most hot-tempered among us can learn to dial down the heat.

Here’s how:

1. Take charge.

The good news is that only one of you needs to know how to calm down in order to keep a fight from spiraling up. It’s impossible to have a good rollicking fight when one person is taking slow deep breaths and keeping her feet on the ground. Add zipping her lips, and no matter how worked up the other is getting, without fuel the quarrel will fizzle out.

2. Hold your tongue.

Don’t think that just because you’re angry you have to “let it all out.” Our words and actions have an impact. When fired-up, we’re more likely to be mean, to exaggerate, to take aim with an intention to hurt.

58277187114323522856Though there’s no evidence that couples who fight are more likely to divorce than couples who don’t, fighting that leads to bitterness, resentment and a sense of futility erodes a couples goodwill, which over time may well lead to divorce.

If you’re getting nasty, take a time-out before you do damage.

3.  Acknowledge your limits: When one or both of you are agitated, know that you’re in the “getting worked-up phase,” not the “working it out phase.” When heated, we’re unreasonable — as in unable to reason. Once threatened, as we are during a conflict, the rational part of our brain is overpowered by the fight-or-flight part of our brain and we’re more reptile than human. We can’t work things out when we’re focused on our survival rather than on making up.

4. HALT. 

Borrowed from my friends in AA, HALT stands for hungry, angry, lonely and tired — the four states of high vulnerability. When you’re hungry, tired, and, I’ll add stressed out, you’re going to be much less resilient and therefore less able to keep your reactivity in check. Rather than continue to rev up, take a brisk walk, eat a sandwich, or go take a nap.

5. Read the signs.

Though tension can (and often does) mount quickly, if you pay close attention, you’ll learn to recognize when your anxiety is ratcheting up. Maybe your thoughts swirl or you feel dizzy or sweat rolls down your back. Or you get tingly and feel like jumping out of your skin. The sooner you start calming yourself, the more successful you’ll be. It’s much harder, though not impossible, to get ahold of yourself when you’re almost ready to blow.

6. Sometimes it’s you:

If you’re the one getting agitated, pause to reflect on what’s getting you so bent out of shape. Yes, your partner left the milk out on the counter again, but why go through the roof?

Keep in mind that the more fired-up you are the more likely it is that your upset in the present is being fueled by old hurts and feelings from your past. Say you were viewed as the family troublemaker or told you were needy or demanding or not very smart.  Arguments with your spouse are likely to ignite those old wounds. Yes, your spouse may be frustrating, but it’s your responsibility to become less reactive and address the injuries you brought with you from the past.

7. Sometimes it’s not:

If your partner is escalating, do your best to keep calm. Often, we make a bad situation worse by making inflammatory comments (Oh brother! Here you go again… what’s your problem now?) or mistakenly thinking we need to “fight back.” Instead of arguing or defending yourself or lobbing grenades, trying slowing things down.

You might say, This is going downhill. Let’s take a break. Or, Let’s back up and try it again. Or, I see you’re really upset. I want to be helpful but it’s hard when you’re yelling.

Know that you’re not responsible for your partner’s escalations. You’re only responsible for what you say and do.

8. Ban the bombs.

do-not-enterWe all know the hot-button words that we ought to avoid, the words that always add fuel to an already simmering fire. Saying, you’re being stubborn or you’re not listening are a bad idea at my house. Many people find that being told to calm down makes them see red. Every couple has their own set of off limits phrases that, if they’re smart, they’ll aim to avoid.

9. Lighten up.

Sometimes the best move is to do something funny or surprising to help you unhook. Why not wave a white dish towel or speak in a foreign accent? One client said she refused to keep fighting with words and switched to funny faces and hand gestures, which made the two of them laugh. One of my husband’s most disarming moves is to take my hands and say, Let’s dance.

10. Accept imperfection.

Don’t bother aiming for sainthood or marital bliss. No matter how steady you become, you and your partner will still have fights. Remember, the goal isn’t to have a conflict-free marriage but to stop your fights a little bit sooner, be a little less reactive, and more willing to own your part in the mess.

Now, over to you. What have you found to cool off your fights?

________________________________________________

Looking to have a more satisfying marriage? Get my free bonus article:
75 Ways To Improve Your Relationship Starting Today — plus new blog posts delivered straight to your inbox!
(Use the Sign-up button on the right or below.)

For news and inspiring cool stuff about relationships, follow me on twitter: @winifredmreilly

Check out this week’s cartoon on Facebook!

4 Reasons to Put Date Night on Your Calendar — In Ink!

510ff0fbe181e_supreme_clientele_concierge_reservationWhether you’ve been married five weeks, five years, or even five decades, date night is a ritual you should regularly observe.

I know. This is hardly a news flash. Read any advice column about how to keep the spark alive in your marriage and you’ll find date night near the top of the list.

Yet, if you’re like most couples, you’ll read it, you’ll note it, and then you’ll ignore it.

A Redbook survey of readers found that 45 percent of couples “rarely” have date nights. A mere 18 percent said they manage to go out around once a month.

Why the low numbers? I’ve wondered — especially since date night is so universally advised. Maybe it’s the old-fashioned sound of the term date night that makes the notion seem corny or trivial. Maybe dating and marriage seem like a contradiction in terms.

When I ask couples, “When was the last time you went on a date?” their response speaks volumes:

A few weeks ago we took the kids out for a movie. Does that count?
Oh, yeah, date night… we keep meaning to do that.

Some admit they’re waiting for the other to initiate it. Others are in a standoff about who last called the babysitter. Some say that going out in a formal way, without kids, just highlights the fact that they feel disconnected, that they find it discouraging and they therefore avoid it. Many tell me they’re simply “too busy.”

Still others complain that it costs a small fortune to pay a babysitter, let alone have dinner or see a movie.

Date night is a luxury, they say.

No, I tell them. It’s an essential.

Not just for couples with young kids who need a night away from the hubbub, or newlywed couples, or those who are struggling. Date night is an essential because couples in all states and stages need quality one-on-one time.

While date night alone will not guarantee a satisfying marriage (nor will a weekly date pull a foundering marriage back from the brink), date night is an investment in the well-being of your relationship — one way, among many, to nourish and care for your marriage.

When I see couples in trouble, I often wonder which came first — the growing estrangement in their relationship or the lack of effort put in to nurture it?

As a client once said: “Date night is cheaper than therapy, much cheaper than divorce, and a whole lot more fun.” I couldn’t agree more, which is why I regularly suggest date night and make it a priority in my own marriage.

Here are the benefits:

1. It’s an Opportunity for Romance

There’s a big difference between going out for the evening and going out on a date. Date night is a night out with your sweetheart. It’s quick trip back to courtship, as opposed to an ordinary night out of the house.

Date night is a state of mind more than an activity. It’s about the meaning you make of your time together, whatever you do. Whether simple or elaborate, eating a sandwich in the park, taking a walk on the beach, going out to the symphony, seeing a movie or just having coffee. Date night says, oh, right, we’re a “couple” when too often it can seem that you’re simply business partners or roommates or two people running day care.

Date night is a chance to look across the table and see the person you married,Little boy and girl with red rose the one you fell in love with, not the person who left the bed unmade or forgot to take out the trash.

Unless you’re going on a hike together or taking a yoga class, I suggest you dress up. This is a date, after all, a special occasion. Remember when you were first dating? Your favorite old t-shirt with the torn sleeve was not your first choice of attire.

2. It’s a Break from “Doing”

Simply put, date night is about connecting with each other, not about getting things done.

Date night offers a needed break from the demands of everyday life. It’s a time to set aside your to-do list and focus on each other. To listen. To express affection. To feel close.

While it’s important to have business meetings and difficult conversations, date night is not the time for that. Yes, some people say that time away from family or kids is hard to come by and you need to grab any opportunity you have. I say, set the hard work of marriage aside and take time to invest in the good.

To get the most out of date night: turn off your phones! Most of us appreciate having our loved one’s undivided attention.

3. It’s About Fun

Date night is an opportunity to have some fun together.

Unless you find baskets of unfolded laundry to be an aphrodisiac or your idea of a sweet time together is catching up on your bills, plan something fun.

While you’re at it, try something new. New experiences activate the brain’s reward system, flooding it with dopamine and norepinephrine, what I think of as “feel good” brain chemistry. These same brain circuits are the ones that “light up” in the early stages of romantic love.

Researchers believe that novelty plays a role in keeping the romantic spark alive. In an experiment with long-married couples, those who were instructed to do something unfamiliar and exciting rather than their usual date night fare showed a significant increase in marital satisfaction and feelings of love.

Not into skydiving? No need to worry.

Try a new restaurant, go to the opera, or just turn on some music and dance.

4. It’s a Show of Commitment

Date night shows a willingness to make the other person and your relationship a priority by setting aside special time.

Back when we had young kids, just the effort of carving out time, arranging for childcare, setting aside all other obligations meant to both of us that our couple-ness was important, that our marriage was worth prioritizing. The fact that my husband was the one who arranged for the babysitter made it all the more sweet, feeling, each time, like a generous gift.

When couples make the effort to spend time together and to continue developing their relationship, no matter what’s going on in their every day life, they are more likely to grow closer, rather than apart. Research has shown that those who have “couple time” at least weekly are 3.5 times more likely to report being “very happy” in their marriages, compared with those spending less alone time with their mates.

Remember: It’s not what you do, it’s the spirit you bring to it. Sometimes our date night consisted of putting the kids to bed and then sitting in the back yard on lawn chairs watching for shooting stars.

In the midst of many grueling months of chemotherapy, a friend posted this on Facebook: Jillian is now halfway through treatment. She felt surprisingly good last Saturday night — so good that we decided to celebrate by going out for a long candlelight dinner. Just being out together, just the two of us… it’s the best medicine there is.
____________________________________________________

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Looking to have a more satisfying marriage? Get my free bonus article:
75 Ways To Improve Your Relationship Starting Today — plus new blog posts delivered straight to your inbox!
(Use the Sign-up button on the right or below.)

For news and inspiring cool stuff about relationships, follow me on twitter: @winifredmreilly

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On holiday…

 

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I’ll be taking a break, returning the first weekend in August.

In the meantime, check out my recent interview on HuffPost Live!

                                                                                                                                                                                                  — Winifred Reilly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 Things About Marriage I Wish I’d Known As a Newlywed

wedding-feetMost of us step into marriage hoping for a lifetime of love and happiness, knowing far too little about what might give us our best shot at getting there. Many of us assume that because we’re in love, because we have common values and compatible dreams we’ve got everything we need to have a marriage that lasts.

Sure, lots of couples divorce. “But, honestly…” we think, “how hard could it be?”

The answer: Continue reading

7 Things No Spouse Can Be Expected To Do

Business Woman With Arrows And Questions Sign Above Isolated OnWant to guess?

Hint: I’m not talking about the laundry or housework or some wild, exotic move in the bedroom.

And no, this has nothing to do with being able to bake a souffle, or adhere to a budget, or be cheerful about putting your cranky toddler to bed.

The main thing that no spouse can be expected to do is… Continue reading

7 Small Things Happy Couples Remember to Do Every Day

Offering CoffeeSo much in life is about the little things, isn’t it? The smell of fresh coffee. A cardinal on the bird feeder. The first crocus in spring.

Even so, most of us assume that our greatest happiness comes from life’s big events, like landing our dream job, getting married, or giving birth to a child. While these extraordinary moments create a brief spike in happiness, current research confirms that sustained happiness is derived from life’s ordinary, everyday stuff. Continue reading