In the "Becoming a Connected Couple" blog series I’ll be describing a number of quick exercises and concepts that can help move your relationship from disconnection, to connection.
Exercise #2: More Play Less Threat
Your fights are deadly serious. When you fight, you both go into survival mode -- you say things to hurt each other, you are keeping score, the desire is win, not improve the relationship.
If you are like most couples, one of you takes on the role of the "pursuer." You "chase" your partner by escalating. Your priority is to get some sort of response from your partner and to feel heard and understood. You are fearful of your partner shutting you out. You feel repeatedly abandoned by your partner and may suspect he doesn't care or doesn't love you.
The other partner feels attacked by the pursuer and immediately gets defensive. His main priority will be to defend himself at all costs. This might look like getting big and scary (yelling, making threatening gestures), it might look like getting icy cold, and it might look like leaving the scene altogether (slamming door as he goes). This partner feels that he is not good enough, will never be good enough, and is constantly disappointing his partner.
When this dynamic emerges consistently during fights, the aftermath is not pretty. Both partners feel unsure of the security of their attachment. Will she leave me? Is it over? Does he love me? How much of this can we take? The fights are unsustainable, exhausting, and threatening.
Identify the dynamic before it happens. Instead of coming at your partner with attacks and threats, say how you feel. Understand that your relationship can be playful, even in conflict.
Imagine a baby lying on play mat, holding his feet, waving her arms in air. Now imagine you and your partner standing on similar play mat when you begin to fight.
During your argument, remind yourself:
We are arguing, but we can still be connected and loving. We are not fighting for our survival. We are simply having an argument, and our job is to protect our relationship by listening, understanding, and conveying love to each other.
When you step off the playmat, arguments become threatening and damaging to your relationship. So your goal is to make your playmat as LARGE AS POSSIBLE. You want a HUGE playmat. You want to be able to argue with your partner and then suddenly, when the doorbell rings, stop the argument, agree to continue later, and welcome your guests as a secure, united, loving couple.