Over the next few weeks, we will be reading the book Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by Dr. Sue Johnson, the developer of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy. Want to go back to the beginning of the series? Just click here.
The topic of the third conversation tackled in Hold Me Tight is Revisiting a Rocky Moment. This is a great follow-up to last week, where we learned about how to identify particular raw spots that may exist between us and our partners. Revisiting a Rocky Moment is all about learning how to de-escalate bad conversational patterns and arguments in the moment.
You may notice the chapter specifies “revisiting.” This is because when we’re first developing our de-escalation skills, it’s best to work on them outside of a rocky moment. Dr. Sue Johnson even admits that sometimes, when her emotions are getting the better of her, she can have trouble with the de-escalation process.
The chapter goes in depth on all of the pieces necessary for de-escalation, but there’s a major theme: the best way to de-escalate is to take ownership of your emotions and how your words or actions may be making your partner feel. Once you and your partner are able to take ownership of your own actions and emotions, you’ll be able to discuss them more open and honestly with your partner. Once you get to the point where you can begin to have this discussion, you’ll likely find yourself in a much less heated argument, and can work on getting to the root causes of the argument.
The first few times you practice this, Dr. Sue Johnson recommends picking a “brief, unsettling (but not really difficult) incident from your relationship” that occurred recently. Then, work with your partner to break down what exactly happened during the incident. Dr. Sue Johnson encourages couples to be curious – ask follow up questions about why your partner said something or felt a certain way.
Once you feel like you’ve gotten the hang of this exercise with a minor incident, try it again with a larger incident in your relationship that has been unresolved. Be aware that this exercise may be difficult – especially if one partner is a bit embarrassed by how they behaved in the moment. Encourage one another to be honest, and do your best to withhold any judgement.
Once you’ve gotten the hang of this exercise, you can start to use the same tools to de-escalate in the moment. It’s obviously very incident-specific, but it may look something like: “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that you’re turning into your mother – but when you hover over me when I’m trying to do chores, I start to feel like I’m not pulling my weight and get defensive – even though I’m trying hard to help! Can you tell me why you feel like you need to look over my shoulder when I help around the house?”
If both partners can continue in a calm, rational manner, the discussion will be a lot more productive – maybe one partner will reveal that the other partner is constantly forgetting important steps of the chores but they don’t know how to communicate that in a healthy way. Or, perhaps it will turn out that the chores are getting done just fine, but the other partner feels a little self-conscious accepting help around the house and doesn’t know how to let go. You never know until you sit down and talk it out!
Next week, we’ll be digging into the fourth conversation Dr. Sue Johnson discusses: Hold Me Tight – Engaging and Connecting.