If you want to have a healthy, loving relationship, take a look at the way you argue. Studies show that the way you argue can be a predictor of whether your relationship will last. There are basically two destructive fighting styles: yelling and screaming, or stonewalling, which is withdrawing emotionally.
And it doesn’t stop there! In a new study from UC/Berkeley and Northwestern, researchers were able to accurately predict what type of health problems couples would have based on their fighting styles. The study found that shutting down emotionally was linked to muscle tension and stiffness, particularly in the back and neck, while patterns of angry outbursts were associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular problems like chest pain and high blood pressure.
So, how do you change the way you argue? The key to changing the way that you fight is about interrupting where your mind automatically goes.
When we are in an argument, feeling angry, anxious, or sad, and our emotions are out of control, there is a part of our brain that causes us to react before we are even aware of what we are even doing or saying. The amygdala are two almond shaped parts of your brain which are the first to react to emotionally significant events. So, when our emotions are out of control, it is the knee jerk response from this part of our brain that can cause you to over react.
It is this part of the brain that is responsible for our instinctual “Fight-Or-Flight” responses. So it is also the amygdala that triggers us to either fight by becoming angry, or flight by either withdrawing or leaving the situation.
It is this automatic reaction that people need to learn how to interrupt. Who is really in control at the moment you are fighting? Is it YOU or is it your automatic mind that is responding?
When we fight with our spouse, we automatically try to protect ourselves from deeper pain that is triggered, that we are not even aware of. All human beings have vulnerability at their core. When our reactions are out of control, it is because our deepest core vulnerability is triggered. We are triggered into inadequacy, shame, guilt, abandonment, failure. This is when our defenses are strongest, and the fight or flight response takes over.
You can interrupt the automatic response of the amygdala by learning to re-direct your mind to the pre-frontal regions of the brain, the part of the brain that is responsible for problem solving and processing more complex thoughts.
In other words, you have to consciously use your thoughts to change your behavior. If you stay triggered in your core vulnerability (inadequacy, shame, guilt, abandonment, failure), you will act out your anger against your partner. If you can consciously remember your commitment to the health of your relationship, and your physical and emotional health and well being, YOU can choose how you will fight, rather than leaving it up to your automatic mind.
Here are 5 Ways to practice interrupting the automatic reactions and change your fighting style:
1. BECOME THE OBSERVER: Understand that your reactions are automatic, and become familiar with what you are really feeling when you react automatically. As soon as you recognize that you are automatically responding to a core vulnerability, you become the observer of your reaction, rather than being lost in it. Separating yourself from your automatic reaction is the first step in practicing change.
2. CHOOSE LOVE: In the moment of observation, the possibility of CHOICE becomes available. You can choose to be right or you can choose to be connected. You can choose to continue to stone wall or fight with hostility OR you can choose a different way of being in the argument.
3. TAKE A TIME OUT: Taking a time out allows you to cool off and take time to understand your own reactivity then come back to the conversation calmer.
4. CHOOSE YOUR WORDS: Think about the words you want to use: Be responsible for the inflammatory words you use. Find a different, more effective way to express yourself so that your partner can understand how you feel.
5. LISTEN FROM A “WIN-WIN” RATHER THAN “ME AGAINST YOU”: Seek to understand your partner’s perspective in a way that you are able to understand what he or she is really trying to communicate to you. Repeat back to your partner. “so what I hear you saying is…” and check in with them to see if you got it right!
The bottom line: Changing your fighting style is all about practicing how to become the observer of your automatic mind.