By Diane Thorp, California Licensed Psychotherapist
Often couples come to me asking for surefire ways to get beyond the initial intensity of their pain after a hurtful argument with their partner. Although no surefire ‘fix-it’ answers exist, mainly because much depends on personal attributes each partner possesses, there are strategies that can make an impact towards healing after an explosive argument between a couple.
Avoid the following pitfalls to help calm the storm so that effective communication and healing can actually begin:
Most problems are maintained due to defensive stances; however, understanding that this serves to actually protect and help that partner in some manner, is vital to remember. In fact, defensive behaviors are normal from time to time, but knowing how to not allow this to interfere with effective communication with your partner is the key. When we act defensively, it actually often provides the opposite of its intended use. That is, instead of opening channels of communication, it brings it to a halt. It does not empower us to make sounds judgments, we don’t end up feeling better about ourselves, and literally increases a partner’s level of guardedness, which defeats the actual purpose than was intended.
2. Words falling on deaf ears
This is a big one! In this context, the meaning is meant to say: ‘CHOOSING NOT TO LISTEN BECAUSE WE’VE CHECKED OUT.’ When this takes place, our brains begin to shut down in order to ward off danger. In fact, unless the reasoning part of the brain instructs the amygdala that the sensation is in fact, not dangerous, the amygdala actually senses this as fear and in turn activates and triggers a ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response. Although this is useful in situations that warrant ‘real versus perceived’ danger, we are overpowered with an intense urge to fight, freeze or run. This perceived danger causes an extreme acute sensory overload and shuts down the very mechanism that we are attempting to open up and communicate with our partner, namely our ears.
3. Lack of communication becomes habitual
This becomes automatic behavior throughout time that often occurs without much conscious thought whatsoever. You and your partner likely aren’t choosing to argue, attempting to lose any or all effective communication skills, or desiring to maintain the constant brawling; however, this often is the miserable end result. Here’s the paradoxical good news to this…habits can also be the automatic behavioral engagement towards activities, i.e., effective communication, that serves to promote well-being and ultimate happiness between a couple. All this can be attributed to neuroplasticity whereby the brain actually has this incredible ability towards creating new neural pathways that actually alters existing ones. This allows us to adapt to new experiences, bring in new information and create new memories for us. Think of these endless possibilities — ones in which you have within you the power to relearn new habits, replacing the old unnecessary ones. Whoever said that you couldn’t teach old dogs new tricks? Well, that may still be true with our beloved canines, but not with our human attachments.