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  • feedwordpress 16:24:53 on 2017/03/24 Permalink
    Tags: , confirmation bias, conflict, , Fight smarter, , Relationship Conflict, smart   

    Fight Smarter: Avoid the Most Common Argument Patterns 

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    “Once in awhile I am late and my boyfriend takes it so personally. I can understand why he gets upset but he blows it way out of proportion and it triggers our biggest fights. How can I convince my man that it’s not about him?” – Paul, Fort Collins, Colorado

    This month we have been delving into the messy, uncomfortable and unavoidable issue of conflict – from the phenomena of kitchen sinking to moving beyond bickering.

    No relationship is free of conflict.

    In the same way that we are comprised of swirling atoms – positive and negative charges that attract and repel – two people are forces orbiting each other, moving towards and away, trying to find a way to coexist and take shape in the world.

    There are two parts to Paul’s question.

    The first is the fraught nature of his boyfriend’s response to his lateness. The second is that Paul wants to “convince” his partner not to feel the way he does.

    Unfortunately, we cannot decide for another that their reaction is out of proportion. When it comes to arguments, it is dangerous to think of oneself as the barometer of sanity or the arbiter of overreactions (i.e. “I think you’re taking this way too personally”). Let go of any assumptions you have about how people should or must react to you. It never bodes well.

    Now to the meat of Paul’s question…

    There are patterns in arguments that are well recognized that I see over and over again. Here are three patterns Paul and his partner, and all of us, can examine as we think about how to fight better.

    Check your Bias

    Damian, Paul’s boyfriend, is convinced that Paul is late on purpose. I can hear the tenor of this argument: “You know how much it upsets me,” he may say to Paul. “Clearly, you behave this way because you don’t respect me.”

    This assumption is known as confirmation bias where we pick up evidence along the way to confirm what we think is true, and disregard any evidence that will challenge our conclusion, and make us reconsider our worldview. It doesn’t matter how many times Paul has been early or taken special care to be on time, the instances where he is late are magnified.

    So why do we persist in thinking other people don’t care about us when they are often trying to convince us that they do?

    Because we organize our reality around these confirmation biases – they create order for us, structure among the chaos.

    Paul, don’t justify, don’t explain, don’t make excuses, give Damian space to be pissed off. Acknowledge his frustration. Simply say: “I know how much you hate this” and “I understand completely that you would feel this way when I’m late”. Leave the other person with the meaning that they have invested in the situation, with the space to feel the way they do and stay connected to them amidst the conflict.

    And for Damian (and all of us) think of the times when Paul has done the right thing. See my previous post about keeping a log for an idea on how to emphasize the positive.

    Cut Out the Character Assassination

    When I do something wrong (like arriving late) it’s typically circumstantial. But if you fail me, I attribute it to your character.

    Damian is convinced that Paul’s lateness is a character flaw; evidence of how disrespectful, uncaring, disorganized and distracted he is. Paul, no doubt, has an entirely different view of his behavior based on the day — for instance, “the subway was stalled” or “I really had to finish this report before leaving the office”.

    We call this fundamental attribution error where we attribute our mistakes to the context but the ones of our partners are rooted in their faulty personality.

    Another way to phrase this is: I am perfect and you are not.

    I suggest a good dose of humor when this pattern appears in your relationship.

    Avoid Always & Never

    Conflict often creates a contraction between couples, a rigidity, leaving little room for flexibility or nuance. “You’re always late,” says Damian. “You never acknowledge what I do for you,” Paul will fire back.  

    These always and never statements become factual – as if what we have asserted is empirically verified data.

    One important thing to understand about couple’s communication is that a lot of what is presented as fact is actually an intensification of someone’s experience.

    When you say “never!” or “always” to someone, the first thing they will do is disagree, citing a contrary example from the past.

    Don’t shift your feelings into pseudo-factual talk. The best thing you can do in an always/never situation is say, “It feels like you do this all the time. Probably you don’t but in this moment, I feel like it’s so.”

    For more information on relationship conflicts, read my blogs on kitchen-sinking fights and breaking the bickering cycle. Tell me about the patterns you recognize from your own behavior and from your relationship.

    The post Fight Smarter: Avoid the Most Common Argument Patterns appeared first on Esther Perel.

  • feedwordpress 22:34:52 on 2017/03/21 Permalink
    Tags: , Anger, Bickering, , Chronic Criticism, , , Happiness, , , Relationship Conflict,   

    Video: Stop Bickering. It’s Killing Your Relationship 

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    “We bicker all the time, she’s so critical of me and I don’t feel like I am doing anything right. What should I do?” – Anthony, Boston

    The artist Louise Bourgeois once described her tumultuous experience as a child at the dining table listening to her parents fight in this way: “To escape the bickering, I started modeling the soft bread with my fingers…. this was really my first sculpture.” And while conflict may have lead to great art for this artist, in most cases, it can be the constantly replaying soundtrack of a distressed relationship.

    Anthony’s question is powerful because it is so common.

    I think of bickering as low intensity chronic warfare. Ongoing criticism can lead to the demise of the relationship. And if we criticize as a way of asking to be loved, well then we will often produce precisely the opposite effect of what we seek: to be loved and to feel good about ourselves. If we spend much of our time feeling lousy, unloved, devalued, inadequate and inept, we are on the wrong side of the tracks. So what can we do to reset this negative pattern?

    Pay Attention to What’s Working

    When I went to school in Belgium, the teacher would mark our mistakes in red pen. Our mistakes were highlighted; our achievements rarely noted. When our relationship is in distress, we tend to overlook the good and overemphasize the bad.

    To counter this, try keeping a daily list of everything that your partner does that is positive, everything that you appreciate, everything that you can be thankful for. Do this for ten days in a row.

    Each note can be as simple as: “Made me a cup of tea” or “Locked door on way out”. Instead of elevating the annoying, elevate the minute details of your partner’s generosity and thoughtfulness.

    Focus on what is working. Pay attention.

    The ratio of appreciation is crucial to a good relationship. Take the log one step further and make a big deal every time the other person does something positive.

    This will kick you out of a defeating cycle of negativity. And will motivate your partner towards acts of kindness.

    Let Yourself Be Vulnerable

    What’s important to understand about criticism is that it sits on top of a mountain of disappointments of unmet needs and unfulfilled longings.

    Every criticism often holds a veiled wish. When your partner says to you, “You’re never around”, what they may actually mean is “I’m lonely, I miss you when you’re not here.”

    When Anthony’s partner tells him he never brings her along when he goes hiking, what she is also trying to tell him is “I wish we would go hiking together”.

    I recommend that Anthony and his partner both say what they want and not what the other did not do.  

    Often I suggest this to couples and they complain, “But I already did exactly that and I got nothing”. Try again.

    It is tempting to launch into anger instead of experiencing the vulnerability of putting yourself out there, asking for something and waiting for the possibility that you won’t get it.

    For many, anger is easier to express than hurt. Anger can feel like a confidence booster and an analgesic. Yet the more we communicate through anger, the more anger we get in return, creating a negative cycle of escalations.

    Reflect & Take Responsibility

    If you have ever done any breathing exercises, or yoga classes, you may have noticed that there is a space at the end of each inhale and exhale. A moment to pause. Similarly, economists and psychologists often encourage this moment of pause before making a large purchase.

    Instead of shifting into instantaneous blame, take a moment to shift from reaction to reflection.

    Why are you angry? What do you want? Instead of going for the jugular. Take responsibility for what you feel and state it.

    When couples come to therapy and they are in escalating cycles – things change when each person begins to take responsibility. This is true for both Anthony and his partner.  

    How do you experience chronic criticism in your relationship? I would love to hear your personal stories – feel free to leave a comment below. And next week we will take relationship conflict one step further and explore how confirmation bias can affect our partnerships.

    The post Video: Stop Bickering. It’s Killing Your Relationship appeared first on Esther Perel.

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