Have you noticed that throughout the months or years you’ve been together with your partner that more and more arguments seem to arise and that these arguments seem to be more or less about the same issue or that they revolve around similar issues? Whenever you try to bring up the issue does the conversation just ends up in yelling, hurt feelings and tears?
Past arguments and accumulated arguments cause emotional injuries, chipped shoulders and put couples in a negative sentiment override. Couples will continue to see through negative filtered lenses, unless they feel validated and understood.
In my therapy sessions, I use the Gottman Couples Method to help clients process past arguments and one of the main tools I use with them is the AFTERMATH OF A FIGHT OR REGRETTABLE INCIDENT tool. There are 5 steps to repairing a relationship after a fight or regrettable incident and it is extremely important for couples to be able to safely dialogue about their feelings and feel heard by their partners. Your partner wants to feel safe talking to you. Your partner wants your support and for you to side with them as much as you want the same for yourself, yet at the same time, it’s important that both of you have your voices in the relationship as well.
So how does it work? Processing past fights will require both of you to be calm and to be somewhat emotionally distant from the incident. The goal of the activity is to have greater understanding and be able to calmly talk about the issue without fighting about it.
AFTERMATH OF A FIGHT OR REGRETTABLE INCIDENT
Which fight was this? Name your event.
For example, last Saturday at your in-laws place.
STEP 1: Feelings
Both of you will need to grab some paper and write how you felt. Do not say why you felt that way and avoid commenting on your partner’s feelings. Just write
“I felt _________” and try to name as many feelings as possible.
STEP 2: Realities (Describe your “reality”)
Take turns to describe yourself and your perception here (do not describe your partner and avoid attack and blame). The idea is that there are two realities – your reality and your partner’s reality. Both realities are correct.
I heard you saying___________________________
I perceived you doing_______________________
What I might have needed from you is _______________________
Now, take turns summarize your partner’s reality by using this script below:
In this particular fight/argument you felt__________
You heard me saying________________
And I can see why this made you feel ________________
It now makes sense to me how you saw this and what your perceptions and needs were.
Say: “Did I get your perception right?” Yes/No
If no, what do I need to know to understand your perspective better?
STEP 3: Triggers
What escalated the interaction for me?
What event(s) in the interaction triggered a big reaction in me?
Examples of triggers:
- I felt judged. I’m very sensitive to that.
- I felt excluded.
- I felt criticized.
- I felt flooded.
- I felt ashamed.
- I felt belittled.
- I felt disrespected.
- I felt powerless.
- I felt out of control.
- I felt lonely.
Now, rewind your memories and stop at a point where you had a similar set of feelings triggered in the past.
Write the story of that past moment here.
Read the story out loud to your partner.
As you think about your early history or childhood, is there a story you remember that relates to what got triggered in you?
Your partner needs to know you, so that your partner can be more sensitive to you.
Does any part of your partner’s triggers and story make sense to you?
It makes sense to me that you felt (Name your partner’s feelings)
I can see how (What was it?) made you sensitive to feeling _____________.
STEP 4: Take Responsibility
Under ideal conditions, you might have done better at talking about this issue.
- What set me up for the miscommunication?
I’ve been very stressed and irritable lately.
I’ve not expressed much appreciation toward you lately.
I’ve taken you for granted.
I’ve been overly sensitive lately.
I’ve been overly critical lately.
I’ve not shared very much of my inner world.
I’ve not been emotionally available.
I’ve been turning away more.
I’ve been getting upset easily
Share. Read it out loud to your partner.
- In regards to the fight/regrettable incident, I specifically regret:
Specifically, my contribution to this fight/ regrettable incident was:
- I am sorry for: (circle and then read aloud)
I was really grumpy.
I was defensive.
I was so negative.
I attacked you.
I didn’t listen to you.
I wasn’t respectful.
I was unreasonable.
- If you accept your partner’s apology, say so. If not, say what you still need.
STEP 5: Constructive Plans
Write one thing your partner can do to make a discussion of this issue better next time. Write one thing you can do to make it better next time. What do you need to be able to put this behind you and move on? Be as agreeable as possible to the plans suggested by your partner.