If you’re like most couples, when things are good, they’re great. However, when sh*t hits the fan…. well, we become undone and then become someone we’re not. It’s like we become out-of-control little green monsters that think it’s okay to be mean and defensive.

We say hurtful things to the one person we love the most, and we often walk out even though our partner is clearly upset and begging to talk.

Why do we do this? Why do we act this way? Even though our better judgement tells us we’re being ridiculous, stubborn, or just being a big jerk?

How we respond or react to a feeling we get when we are in a situation that doesn’t feel good to us, are our very own unique coping mechanisms that typically stem from our childhood. Watching our own parents cope in stressful situations, has a way of seeping into our memories and creating what soon becomes our adult coping skills. Though some of our coping skills may be useful at times, there are others that are not.

Some of the more common ones include:

  • Physically walking away in the middle of a conversation with our partner.
  • Becoming frustrated and showing outward emotions like crying, screaming, or yelling.
  • The need to show physical frustration by hitting something (or someone).
  • Disassociating with the situation thus shutting down emotionally.
  • Disassociating from the situation by shutting down verbally (also known as stonewalling).
  • Confusion, blame, and gaslighting are other examples of this.

The emotions we have usually go much deeper than just what is going on at that moment. These are triggers that originate from a past situation, event, or trauma. The key is to not allow being triggered to be an excuse for bad or negative behaviour.

It all starts with being willing to take on a new perspective of how you look at things and to remind yourself that your partner looks at things very different from you, and both are valid. No one is wrong. You are both two individuals with different values, beliefs, and past experiences.

Learning to not take things personally is the first step, and will help you handle those triggers with compassion and patience.

Here are just a few ideas to help you to develop some conflict-resolution skills and create a stronger relationship with your partner:

  • The moment that you start to feel that anxiety or frustration build up inside you simply stop and take a moment to take a few deep breaths and remind yourself that one or both of you are being triggered and that what you are hearing may not be at all personal. You can even declare out loud, “Hold on a minute. I notice I’m being triggered.” That will give you time to self-regulate your emotions, and come down from the rafters before things get out of hand.
  • Reframe your thought process by looking at your partner, reminding yourself how much you love them, and how they are just as frustrated about the situation as you are. Someone once gave me some great sage advice: “Pick your Battles”. Is fighting about garbage and recycling really worth 2 days of awkward silence and resentment? Yup, I didn’t think so.
  • Remind yourself that going back and forth is only going to create more frustration and tension… Ask yourself, “Is this really worth an argument?” Sometimes the best thing to do is to agree to disagree, or perhaps just say nothing at all. You don’t have to give your two cents on everything.
  • This should be #1 because it’s the most important: LEARN TO LISTEN. Most of us are great at talking openly and honestly, but few of us know how to listen to understand. The kind of listening that we have learned is: How to listen to react, respond, defend, and justify…. which as you can probably guess makes us sucky communicators when it comes to conflict resolution. If the conversation is going nowhere, and you feel like you are talking in circles and just repeating yourselves, call a timeout.
  • That isn’t to say walk away in the middle of the conversation frustrated and mad, but rather to agree that you both need to take time to resonate with what the other has said. This way you can really hear what the other person is saying by taking time to think about what they said without all the emotion.
  • Watch your words. They can cut like a knife. If you know that you’re about to do something that you are going to regret, that is the time to let your partner know, so they can give you space. Let them know that you can continue this conversation in a few minutes, and just take a break.
  • If all else fails, hug it out. I actually use this strategy a lot in my own marriage. Though that might sound a little crazy. Having a time out to just come together, and be close may just be what is needed to stop the situation from escalating. When I can see that my husband is getting really upset and looks really hurt or worried, I abandon all convictions to be right and I just throw myself into his arms. We just hug each other until we’re ready to apologize, which is usually less than a minute.
  • Once you re-connect and feel that closeness together will bring up those levels of oxytocin, and lower your serotonin which is your stress hormone, allowing you both to feel a lot closer, and listen without the triggers that are attached when you resume your conversation.

    I would like to add that while your triggers may never completely go away, self-reflection is key. It is helpful to take notes when you feel those triggers come up. Personally, I love to journal my fears because it allows me to take out the emotion and deal with the actual issue, rather than the emotion of it. Over time you can start to identify where those triggers are coming from and work towards healing them through whatever modalities best suit you. Not only will this benefit you in the long run for your peace and state of mind, but also help to create more positive relationships with your partner, and others around you.

    Finding that sweet spot when it comes to both you and your partner finding new coping skills to work together may not be easy, but in the end, it is so well worth it. Accepting and understanding that you both have triggers is the first step. Remember that when frustrations and anxiety run high will take a little bit of effort on both of your parts, but once you create that new habit to take a pause and a breath or two, it will become so much easier to create positive communication on both sides moving forward. Utilizing your newfound coping skills will allow for much smoother communication with far less conflict, and much easier resolution in all the situations you face together.