Tag Archives: argument

Why Arguments Spiral Out of Control in Relationships

When you are in the heat of an argument, your brain seems to be fixed on “hot,” doesn’t it? It’s not just you.

Your brain clusters memory by emotions, explained a recent article by SmartRelationships.org. What this means is that when we are sad, all we can recall at that moment are sad memories. When we are angry, we can only recall moments when we were angry. When we are happy, we recall only happy memories. “This explains why arguments can so easily descend into a long list of past offenses.”

You’ve been there, right? During the disagreement, you can’t remember all the good reasons you married your spouse. You can’t access your positive feelings. This is why saddle bagging (bringing up old hurts and conflicts) is so common. You suddenly have access to all these negative memories that were hidden to you before the argument.

What can you do to counter this tendency? Waiting a little while to allow yourself to gain perspective can help you return to a happier place where you can access positive memories again.

This concept of memory clustering is a relatively new concept for me, and one I think we would do well to remember ourselves and to educate others about when they are in conflict, especially older kids and teens. “Let them know that when it seems like the end of the world, it’s only the brain being unable to access memories from a different emotional state,” according to SmartRelationships.org.

What this has to do with is developing resilience and emotional intelligence in your marriage. Sometimes you have to “unstick” your mind by focusing on something else, or by being willing to step away until you are calm. You can help increase resilience in your marriage by offering care and support and by developing a better ability to manage strong feelings and impulses.  You can only control your own reactions and behavior.

Remember that if you both didn’t care so much you wouldn’t be as upset as you are about your differences. After calming down, take time to listen and focus on effective communication (not just getting your point across). Focus on your goal of working through the issue toward better understanding for the future, rather than focusing on “winning” the argument.

What goes through your mind during the heat of an argument? Is this issue of memory clustering harder for you or your spouse to get past?

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.

Photo courtesy of Liz Noffsinger/Freedigitalphotos.net.

Stay Self-Focused to Repair Marital Problems

Most people who go to marriage counseling are secretly hoping the therapist will change their spouse, says Harriet Lerner, PhD. Of course they do. We all think we are right, don’t we? There may be a few who have acted egregiously and know they are in the wrong, but usually we are certain we are upholding more than our end of the bargain.

Instead of being focused on our spouse’s behavior or attitude, we should focus on ourselves, says Lerner, who writes for Psychology Today and has appeared on CNN and Oprah.

“Change will not happen until at least one person takes his or her blaming or worried focus off their spouse and puts it back on himself or herself,” she says, adding, “Self-focus is not the same as self-blame.” It’s an important point to not blame ourselves as much as to look at how we are a contributor to the good and bad parts of the relationship. Lerner says our energy is best spent observing, clarifying, and changing our own part in relationship patterns.

Our partner may choose to also change his or her patterns, but won’t do that through our criticizing and diagnosing their issues. He or she might consider it after seeing us take responsibility for our part.

As an example, if you feel slighted by something your spouse did, and you begin to withdraw, withhold affection and concentrate solely on the children, you both become part of the problem. It would be better to address your feelings directly rather than compound the problem with “punishments.”

I’ll close this post with a link to a story, a parable really, that I think is deceptively simple and holds a great deal of truth. It has to do with understanding that love is a decision. (Interestingly, Is Love a Decision or a Feeling? is the most searched topic on my blog. ) Anyway, the tale is included in a post called How to Fall Back in Love by Gina Parris. If you read the story, you’ll understand why I included it here.

Some of you may say you are in the midst of a dispute in which you are truly in the right, and your spouse is the biggest jerk ever. Yes, there are times when we can do everything right and be the most loving spouse, work to improve ourselves, and find we are married to someone who won’t budge. In those rare cases (and I do think these would be quite rare), at least we won’t have any regrets. Read the story. Follow the advice, and see how things work out.

All that being said, the next time I have a marital dispute, I’m sure I will still think I’m right! So, it will take some effort for me to evaluate my own actions before blaming my spouse. How are you at this? Any tips you have learned over the years?

Source: Quotes taken from Creating a Marriage You’ll Love, a collection of marriage essays.

Turning Down the Heat in Your Marital Argument

We’ve acknowledged by now that every couple disagrees, but sometimes an argument gets out of hand and moves to another level you hadn’t intended. Gretchen Rubin lists “23 Phrases to Help You Fight Right” on a recent post, but says the best strategy is to use humor and joke around if things are getting to heated. If that doesn’t work, try one of these:

Please try to understand my point of view.
Wait, can I take that back?
You don’t have to solve this—it helps me just to talk to you.
This is important to me. Please listen.
I overreacted.
I see you’re in a tough position.
I can see my part in this.
I hadn’t thought of it that way before.
I could be wrong.
Let’s agree to disagree on that.
This isn’t just your problem, it’s our problem.
I’m feeling unappreciated.
We’re getting off the subject.
You’ve convinced me.
Let’s take a break for a few minutes. [If you can remember to do this, it’s extremely effective – especially if you’re having a big fight. After a break, it’s almost impossible to go back to yelling.]
Please keep talking to me.
I realize it’s not your fault.
That came out all wrong.
I see how I contributed to the problem.
What are we really fighting about?
How can I make things better?
I’m sorry.
I love you.

If you can’t see yourself willing to say many of these, perhaps that is part of the problem. Do you have a phrase or strategy that works well for you?