Have you and your partner ever fought about the most insignificant thing and suddenly found yourselves bringing up all the bad things the other person has done since you were together?
We’ve all been there! And it’s a natural consequence of us not being able to truly work out our past issues.
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Many times, we simply let go of things or compromise for the sake of not fighting anymore. We believe that if we stop talking about it and allow time to pass by, the cause of the fight will magically disappear. Unfortunately this does not just happen. Hurt needs to heal and in order for it to heal, we need to talk about it and process it.
With time, these feelings of hurt will turn into resentment. And this resentment will be lurking, waiting for the next time we feel less important or not seen by our partner, only to come back with the same intensity. At this point, we usually start the blame game, where everything happens because of the other person. This is when we end up in negative cycles with no end or resolution.
Stop Fighting! 4 Steps to Improve Communication for a Healthier, Stronger Relationship
But then again, there are two in a relationship. It takes two for it to work and also, for it to slide into the cycle. This negative cycle will continue as long as both get reactive. For this reason, it is very important that both of you realize that moving away from the cycle and actually creating a new positive cycle — one that leads to connection instead of disconnection — is something you both need to work on together.
Here are four steps you can both take to break that negative cycle and start creating a positive, healthier one that will make your relationship stronger:
Step 1: Recognize your role in it
Both of you are in this together and you have created a “relational dance” where you are both reacting and bringing up past hurt.
We tend to look outside for the problem and the solution of the problem, leaving us feeling completely powerless. If you both realize that you do have the capacity to change things around, you can use these moments of disconnection to create a stronger relationship.
Step 2: Awareness! Recognize your reaction
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It only takes a moment for something to get to us. We feel that trigger, that twirling energy inside that sends us to that place of reactivity, either by wanting to escape to a faraway place or by wanting to fight and get our voice heard. Either reaction will be a trigger for your partner as well, leading you both towards your well-known cycle. But remember: the way you react can distance you from your partner instead of bringing the two of you closer together.
If you recognize that you are feeling triggered, pay attention to the intensity of your reaction. If you cannot calm yourself down, take some time out. Let your partner know that you need some time before you say or do something you will later regret. When you feel calmer, when that twirling sensation is no longer there, go to step 3.
Step 3: Recognize what you really want to say
As you calm down, notice what is really happening inside of you and what it is that you really want to say for yourself and about yourself.
Recognize your feelings and what fuels all that anger and frustration. Are you feeling hurt and sad because your feelings or thoughts seem not to be important to your partner? Are you feeling guilty because you did something that hurt (or could potentially hurt) your partner’s feelings? Are you feeling vulnerable and powerless because it seems that no matter what you do, it will never be good enough?
If you can recognize any of these anguishes, imagine what would happen if you were to say them out loud instead of pointing the finger and getting defensive.
Step 4: Recognize your needs
See if you can pin-point what you need from your partner. How can your partner help you? Do you need comfort? Would a hug help? Do you need him or her to listen to you? Express these needs clearly.
Try this exercise once with your partner and see what happens. I am confident you will find a very different way of relating to one another. If you learn to master this, you can actually create a positive cycle where you both feel closer and more connected with one another.
To learn more about building healthier relationships, check out our piece on the wheel of emotions.