Getting Off the Merry Go Round
Updated: May 18
All couples argue. It’s going to happen. It’s part of doing life together. But it can become really draining when you feel that’s all you do as a couple. Do you ever find yourself fighting about the stupidest things! When you think about it the next day, you say to yourself, “I can’t believe we argued about that”! The truth is that most of the time, the thing that’s making you so upset or angry is not actually the content of the argument itself. We’ll talk about that more in a minute.
Have you ever noticed there’s a pattern to how your fights go? You might get upset over something and you try to share it with your husband, but he just seems to blow it off or be relatively unaffected by it. You feel more unheard and alone and so you ratchet up the volume only to find that he’s totally checked out at this point. The more he shuts down, the harder you pursue him. And then things really blow up! (It’s not always the wife pursuing and the husband shutting down, by the way. Sometimes it’s the other way around.)
Husbands, do you ever feel that no matter what you do, she’s going to be upset. You try your best to listen and respond, but then she gets upset with you for not saying it right. Or maybe, she frustrated because you’re not upset enough. And you’re thinking, “someone has to stay calm and keep their head about them”. Do you find yourself avoiding things just to try to keep the peace?
It’s like we’re on this merry go round that we can’t seem to get off of. You get upset and try to talk to him about it. He gets his feelings hurt or wants to avoid the conflict, so he gets quiet and withdraws. The more he withdraws, the more frustrated and unseen you feel. You want so badly to resolve the issue and not suffer in silence, so you follow after him, maybe even yelling a little at this point. Then he can’t take it anymore and yells back or shuts down completely. Both of you end up feeling alone and frustrated.
It's like there is this vicious dance that keeps pulling you back into the same old arguments, with each of you responding the typical way you normally do. You may think to yourself, “I can’t keep doing this”! “There has to be a way out of this!”
Remember, when I said earlier, it’s not the content of the argument that’s actually getting us the most upset? It turns out that the thing we’re fighting about is not what’s fueling the flame. Dr. Sue Johnson talks about an emotional current flowing underneath our arguments. In her book, Hold Me Tight, she describes the panic and relationship distress that occurs when we feel the loss of connection with our spouse. That’s why we get upset and raise our voice. We want to get our partner’s attention and help them see us. And that’s also why we withdraw. We don’t’ want to make things work and have our spouse even more angry with was, so we shut down in hopes that things will die down and hopefully get back to some level of peace.
Learning a New Way To Dance
Is there a way off the merry go round? In Marriage Counseling, we can identify this unhelpful relational dance. Then, when you recognize that you’re falling back into the same old pattern of arguing, one of you can say something like, “Hey, we’re doing that thing again.” You can then pause and try taking a risk by being vulnerable and sharing what Dr. Johnson calls the “softer” feelings underneath. Underneath anger there is often panic, fear, or hurt. It’s far easier for our partner to hear these softer feelings than to just see our more visceral anger and react defensively. Doctors John and Julie Gottman call these “repair bids”. They suggest one of you saying something like, “I’m feeling defensive” or “I’m feeling anxious”. This approach can be really disarming and can help you or your spouse, pause long enough to put down their guard and listen to what the other is saying.
In Marriage Counseling, I’ve seen how helpful it can be for each party to slow down, try using these strategies, and come away, having actually heard each other for the first time in a long time. Heck, I’ve actually tried these in my own marriage and found it refreshingly effective!
Sometimes couples need a coach, a neutral third party, to help them discover their own relational dance they’ve fallen into. Once we can identify the typical pattern and the moves of the dance each one is playing, we can intervene and learn new steps to take. These new steps, once practiced, can open the door to greater understanding and empathy.
Wouldn’t it be great to not feel alone anymore? Things don’t have to keep going the same old way, indefinitely. Marriage Counseling can help! Of course, the road ahead to a more fulfilling marriage isn’t an easy one. It’s not always smooth sailing trying to learn a new way of communicating and being with someone. But there is potential, with consistent effort and humility, to really change the relationship for the better!
You know, we get married to our spouse because we feel a meaningful connection with them and we want to keep that closeness going. What would it be like, to feel close once again? Would it be worth your investment in time and energy?
Why not give me a call at 817-320-4619? You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s talk and see if we would be a good fit for each other!
Copyright 2022 Jonathan Karber, M.S., LMFT, LPC