Hello. I’m Geoffrey with Asheville Marriage Counseling.
Do you ever get into those kind of nitpicky bickering type arguments in your marriage where your arguing about something that really doesn’t matter that much? And maybe after the argument or disagreement you look back and you think “that really wasn’t worth the arguing and the ill will that it’s caused between us.”
We all have a tendency to fall into those arguments and there are actually a couple of good reasons that we do, which we’ll get into in another video. But even though those issues are small, having another disagreement and another disconnection time from your partner can be damaging to the marriage.
And if you remember or looked at my earlier video about how arguments and fighting damages relationships, you may recall that we talked about healthy and secure marriages having a ratio of five connecting type experiences for every one disconnecting type experience. And these nitpicky arguments are disconnecting experiences; so it’s really worthwhile to avoid them or catch them and deflate them as quickly as possible when we can.
So, in this video I’m going to talk about a couple of ways that our brains tricks us into making these small issues feel like their bigger issues, which can trick us into these arguments. And then second, I’m going to share with you four simple words that, more often than not, can take the energy right out of these arguments and just let them dissipate and end.
But before I go on, I do want to emphasize that what I’m sharing in this video is specifically for those ‘no account’ type arguments. There are disagreements we have with our spouses that really are substantive issues having to do with the foundations and critical aspects of our marriage; and this sort of a disengagement process really isn’t appropriate for that, because those do deserve engagement.
So with that being said, let’s go ahead and look at how does our brain trick us into making things important that aren’t really that important. One of the ways that happens is as we start talking about the issue, we start narrowing our focus. And as we talk more and more about this one specific issue and that’s absorbing more and more of our attention, it actually kind of shifts our perspective. We start experiencing this one issue as being much more important than it is, because we’re no longer looking at it in context of everything else (or our marriage as a whole.)
Once we’ve allowed ourselves to get narrowed down in this tunnel vision view and we don’t really have perspective anymore and on how important the issue really is, it’s very easy for another part of our brain to get activated. And it’s a very old school, primitive, and not very insightful part of our brain – that shifts us into win/lose mode. It’s really a survival instinct. It activates when we feel threatened.
And even though intellectually we know that were not being threatened by being in a verbal disagreement with our marriage partner; our brain can still activate at that point. So, now we have a double whammy. We’ve got a tunnel vision view that this is a really important issue… and now this additional energy pushes it to say “and I’m being threatened and it’s really important that I persevere… that I win out!”
That sets up the disagreement that can escalate and escalate into a big argument over a relatively small or even inconsequential issue.
How do you stop an argument in your marriage?
So, what do you do about this? How you protect yourself from falling into this?
Well, I’m going to suggest a three-step process (or maybe a three-step process with a little caveat) that can help you to avoid this type of nitpicky unimportant argument in your marriage.
And the first piece has to do with developing your awareness of what I call the “on ramp”, when you’re beginning to get escalated… you’re beginning to get excited or irritated or engaged, which happens along with getting this tunnel vision. That usually doesn’t go from 0 to 100. It’s usually sequential and has step-by-step. And if you become aware of your own internal experience, maybe it’s you get flushed or you start getting tensed up; but looking for the cues within yourself that let you know you’re on your on-ramp.
That’s critically important, because that’s the only place that you can still make a choice to do something differently. Once you’re passed the on-ramp – you kind of get onto auto-pilot.
And if you experience yourself on the “on-ramp”, the second step is to ask yourself the question, “how important is this issue?” “How important is me being right relative to the overall harmony and comfort of my marriage?”
It is a profound question. And if you ask it at that moment, that will often allow you to shift back into full view and out of the tunnel vision, because you’re asking “how important is this issue specifically, compared to the harmony of my relationship with my marriage partner?” And oftentimes that puts it back in perspective as being a relatively small issue… and gives you motivation and opportunity of choice to disengage.
A useful way to ask that sometimes is simply, “how important it is my being right, compared to having a comfortable, easy, loving experience with my spouse over the next few hours?” That brings it really down into the moment and sometimes helps to make that choice easier.
So if you have that awareness and you recognize you’re starting to argue about something that can cause disharmony in my marriage and it’s really not worth it, but you’ve already begun to engage and your partner’s engaged, how can you get out of it graciously?
And that’s where these four simple words come into play.
And those words are simply: “You might be right…” Pretty simple, right?
Now notice you’re not saying, “okay, you’re right” and you’re not saying “I changed my mind”.
You don’t have to give up your point of view at all. But it’s acknowledging, “okay, you might be right” and giving an opportunity for that energy to dissipate. Because, remember your partner’s also in that same right/wrong posturing and when you say, “you might be right”; well there’s really not a lot left to argue about then.
So, it can be a very powerful way of disengaging from these arguments without having to give in or having to win or lose. Because remember… if you win, your partner loses. And that’s probably not to make the evening go very well either.
END OF PART ONE:
Presenter: Geoffrey Bullock, LCSW, Marriage Counselor at Asheville Marriage Counseling
Geoffrey is a marriage counselor with Asheville Marriage Counseling, located in Asheville, NC. Free initial consultations are offered for potential marriage counseling clients in Asheville and surrounding areas.