Couples Therapy | Let’s face it, after an argument, when things have cooled down, the last thing some of us want to do is bring it up again. And yet we know that talking after an argument is a good idea. Some of us don’t really know how to do that. Maybe it wasn’t modeled to us in our own families–everyone just swept it under the rug and moved on. Or maybe you’ve tried talking about it but it just ended up erupting into another argument.
It doesn’t have to be this way. In a loving relationship, you can safely discuss these issues and grow stronger as a result. You can find closure about some of the hurt caused during the argument. Here are some steps to do this:
Here are the steps:
1. Make sure you are calm and in a cooperating mood.
Make sure have some bandwidth to hear some difficult things from your partner. If you are in a calm and non-defensive place, this will put your partner in the same place.
2. Ask them to tell you how they are feeling.
This is self-explanatory. You can ask them if they are ready to talk, or if they would like to discuss the argument. The key is to ask permission. This will show respect and consideration for your partner.
3. Listen well
Listening is one of the most powerful and underrated things you can do in your relationship. You can find out more about listening here. Listening does something chemically to the defensive brain that calms the other person. Here is how to listen well:
Show empathy. This is hard when you may be feeling like someone is unfairly accusing you of something. Put your own feelings aside and put yourself in their shoes. For example, if someone says “you went to play basketball last night, I was expecting you home, you never spend time with me!” Now you may be thinking “I always play basketball on Tuesday nights and I only play twice a week, why is she saying I never spend time with her?” Instead of saying that, put yourself in her shoes. She’s had a rough week and she was hoping I’d skip basketball tonight and she felt alone. The way you talk to her will be very different than if you didn’t have empathy. And this would produce a very different outcome for the discussion.
Give reflections. Basically you are mirroring what the other person is saying. It seems cheezy to some, it seems ingenuine but trust me, it works. I will oftentimes have partners practice with one another and it’s beautiful to see the faces of the people receiving the reflections. I hear things like “I wish you could say this to me at home.” or “I’ve been waiting so long to hear you say that.” Basically they are repeating what their partner is saying and their partner is loving it!
Here is an example I use in Couples Therapy:
Angry partner: “you went to play basketball last night, I was expecting you home, you never spend time with me!”
Reflection: “you’ve had a rough week and we’re hoping I’d skip basketball last night to be with you.”
The key is it needs to be done with empathy. Otherwise, it will not feel genuine. And it will not feel good to you or to your partner.
4. Take responsibility for your part.
Don’t take responsibility for something you didn’t do just to appease your partner. This will only make you resentful and it will not be genuine. For a majority of couples, the hurts that come from arguments stem from unintentional hurts that the other was not aware he or she was inflicting. If you purposely cheated on your spouse it’s easy to apologize! It’s in the day to day arguments where both feel they were right, where it’s harder to take responsibility.
So take responsibility for your part. Maybe you weren’t as sensitive as you needed to be. Maybe your spouse was giving you signals and you were distracted so you didn’t catch on to what your spouse wanted.
Here is an example from Couples Therapy the basketball scenario:
you went to play basketball last night, I was expecting you home, you never spend time with me!”
“You’ve had a rough week and we’re hoping I’d skip basketball tonight and you felt disappointed because you were home by yourself. (reflection)”
“I’m sorry that I didn’t catch on to that. “(taking responsibility)
5. Problem solve and follow-through
Showing how you will change helps your partner feel secure. You can start by saying things like “how about next time…” or “in the future, I will…”
“How about next time if you are feeling sad I will ask if you want me to stay home? Also you tell me what you need and I will honor it. “
6. When they are calm, share your own feelings.
By this time, if you followed the steps, your partner should be feeling calm and feeling safe. He or she is ready to hear you out. They are in a loving place, not a fighting place.
Take this opportunity to lovingly share your own feelings and hurts.
Here is an example:
“Are you ok if I share something? I would love it if you would just share with me what you would want me to do instead of saying ok but getting angry and giving me the cold shoulder when I come home. “
At this point the hope is that your partner would be able to follow the same steps that you took to listen, take responsibility for their part, and problem solve.
Talking after an argument is not easy. Many times it is not smooth. Be ok if things get heated again. Take a break and try again. Life is messy and relationships are part of this messiness. We don’t have to get everything perfect. We can try it and make progress and see that we are moving closer to the goal. Communication takes practice, and if we continue to practice, we will make progress.
About the author: Lia Huynh is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who specializes in couples therapy in the Milpitas, San Jose and Fremont areas. She is passionate about couples reconnecting, rebuilding trust and building happy lives together. Good communication takes practice and oftentimes is not easy. If you would like to find out more about working with Lia to improve your communication with your partner, see more here. Couples Therapy San Jose CA