Ever notice how you or your mate can start talking about something seemingly minor and within a short period of time it has escalated to something very major? Perhaps it starts off about who left the toothpaste cap off the tube or who was supposed to bring the mail in and within five minutes you are so exasperated, one or both of you are hurling accusations about the selfishness or defective character of the other. Ever ask yourself, “How did we get here?”
There are many reasons things seem to heat up quickly. If you have not been connecting recently, your emotional bank account may be running on fumes. With little to cushion the tension that rises between you, you or your spouse may react impatiently or without thinking, which sets off the other.
One or both of you may be undergoing a season of stress. Pressures at work, an unbalanced load of home responsibilities, financial constraints can all weigh you down with anxiety and frustration. With little bandwidth, you may find yourself depleted and in short supply when it comes to having the patience necessary for a less reactive discussion.
Unresolved conflict can also fuel the flames of reactivity. When you are holding onto some issue from the past, any small incident in the present can trigger a reaction greater than the immediate circumstance would warrant. That’s usually a good sign that a heart-to-heart discussion with your mate or forgiveness is necessary to clear out the issue.
To help make deposits in your emotional bank account and give your relationship more resiliency when under stress there are two simple acts that can help. The first is learning to repair a conversation, before it escalates into a full blown argument. Something as simple as, “Hey, I said that a bit sharply. Could we start over?” could help bring the communication back to center.
Repair requires humility and restraint. Humility involves an awareness and comfort with the reality that you are not perfect, nor are you required to be so. You are human, you make mistakes and it’s healthy and prudent to be able to admit them and calm the storm. The saying from the book of Proverbs: “Pride goes before destruction and haughtiness before a fall” (16:18 TLB) rings true in our relationships. Pride that keeps us from acknowledging our contribution to conflicts, ultimately damages ourselves and our marriage.
Restraint is required because when we get triggered by something our mate says or does, it can be hard to reign in our own reactivity and offer a conciliating response. We want to vent, to even the score, to defend ourselves. Restraint means we hold back our urge to get even which positions us to slow ourselves down and act in the best interest of the relationship.
The second act is even more important than the first. It is instilling into your marital DNA a daily question/comment which will invited connection and fill help fill your tanks. For husbands the question is: “Is there anything I can do for you today?” or “How was your day?” followed by actively listening to your wife’s response and following through. For wives the comment is as simple: I really appreciate _______. What you appreciate can be something he did or said or some quality that you are noticing. It’s amazing what a regular expression of appreciation can do for your man.
If you have a success at repair or begin using these simple acts of connection, please comment on the blog and let us know!