5 Lines to End an Argument

January 13, 2012 — Leave a comment

We all remember going through school and hearing how main subject categories were noted as “the 3 R’s:” Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. And a common learning tool for these subjects in school was use of the good ole’ flash-card to increase memorization. There is a 4th “R” you may want to consider adding to the list of Reading, Writing and Arithmeticââ?¬Â¦that can also be improved through the use of flash-cards: “Relationships.” In the book, “Talk to Me Like I’m Someone You Love: Relationship Repair in a Flash”, Dr. Nancy Dreyfus, Psy.D., explains how Relationship Flash-Card Repair can help solve squabbles between couples.

Successful relationships are all about connection.

If a couple is unable to make a genuine connection, literally there are no particular words to fix what’s wrong. They can hammer and drive their points home or be nice for the sake of keeping the peace, yet no matter how articulate or forceful or compliant, the disconnection remains. Sometimes this is for a dayââ?¬Â¦sometimes it is for years; sometimes, sadly, forever. Whether it gets expressed directly or not, the continued experience of feeling unseen and unheard leads to being disengaged and/or enraged.

When a couple is in a reactive mode, words get drowned-out by their individual needs to hang on to how they have been offended by the other. Talk is cheap ~ it’s what we do with each other all day long. In the heat of a fight, combatants are too busy thinking up their next remark to even hear a conciliatory gesture.

Out of UCLA came the research that our communication is 93% nonverbal; tone, pitch, volume and timber are large conveyers of the message. If the speakers tone isn’t perfectly angelic, which is often the case between resentment and remorse, the gesture lacks conviction and the attempts to repair are often unsuccessful and leave a couple feeling even more hopeless.

This is where written messages seem to have an edge. The novelty of the visual format increases the odds of them being received and appreciated. Some critics might say, “How am I supposed to look up a flash card and use it when I feel so enraged or hurt or triggered? It feels awkward or clumsyââ?¬Â¦” The key to self-mastery is to physiologically self-soothe; consciously shift gears and choose to be in your right mind versus your reactive one. Connection takes time, effort and energyââ?¬Â¦.using flash-cards is a great way to get out of your own way and get your relationship back on track.

There are different categories of flash-cards to fit different purposes within relationship repair. The first category is Shifting Gears:

“THIS FEELS AWFULââ?¬Â¦.CAN WE START OVER & LISTEN TO EACH OTHER?”

Anytime we experience our partner as difficult we often forget that they are not enjoying the negative exchange any more than we are. When you present this flash-card to your partner, it is almost guaranteed to “de-enemy-ize” you and surprise them with the awareness that you are both feeling the same thing, a distaste for what’s going on between you. And the secret wish of every human being is to be “felt.” In other words, to be understood, known, or “gotten.” Being heard is a significant step towards feeling “felt.”

Another category is Setting Limits: You look at these as interpersonal stop signs for when things are spiraling out-of-control and you are feeling overwhelmed and helpless.

“PLEASE TALK TO ME LIKE I’M SOMEONE YOU LOVE.”

This statement is powerful because it immediately gets us out of the content and into the heart of the relationship. Both of you deserve to be treated lovingly. Couples have penetrated steel walls by ignoring all manner of criticism and attack by simply holding up this one flash card.

All of this seems to be about “Expressing Vulnerability.” It does feel a little risky to flash a particular card to your partner; what if they laugh or roll their eyes?

“I’M AFRAID TO BE REAL WITH YOU.”

Expressing vulnerability is to help you loosen the grip anytime your initial instinct is to protect yourself from feeling insignificant, weak, needy, awkward, unlovable, or unattractive. These insecure feelings are not to be ashamed of; they are beautifully human. The best way for me to connect to another person is to first make myself “connectable” by being vulnerable, real and honest.

It’s never easy to take responsibilityââ?¬Â¦we get so caught up in what the other person is doing to usââ?¬Â¦yet it’s one of the most powerful categories.

“I REALLY MISSED YOUR POINTââ?¬Â¦PLEASE GIVE ME ANOTHER CHANCE.”

To own your over-reactiveness, scariness or relentlessness or owning that you have a blind spot regarding your impact on your partner, has a healing element on your relationship like no other. It takes the wind out of your partner’s angry sails and leaves them with the feeling that, “He/She gets it!”

In one session, a young husband couldn’t let go of the fact that earlier in the week, at 3:00 in the morning, he got up to use the bathroom, painfully stubbed his toe, while his wife seemed to fake being asleep, offering no comfort or empathy for his plight. The wife insisted she must have been asleep, understandably, since it was so early in the morning, but this man could not let it go. Suddenly the wife took a deep breath and confessed, “I wasn’t asleep. I did hear you. I was drained from the day, worried that I had to get up early for work and wasn’t feeling very nurturing. I am so sorryââ?¬Â¦I can see how un-taken-care-of you must have felt.” He simply smiled and said, “I love it when you tell the truth.” The love and trust in that moment was far beyond what it would have been if at 3:00 AM she had been Florence Nightingale.

The final category is “Apologizing.”

“I’M SO SORRY I COULDN’T HEAR YOU SOONER.”

I deeply appreciate a sincere apology because it is such a beautiful expression of both vulnerability and responsibility-taking. We feel loved because our partner is willing to own something less than honorable about them with the intention of being clean in the relationship. Our partner, in turn, gets to be loved and seen as honorable. This flash care has the potential to make your partner feel deeply felt and cared for. With very few words, this flash card says to your partner, “I’m sorry I forced you to live in this world one minute more than you had to feeling you weren’t making sense to someone who matters so much to you.”

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Dr. Liz Hale

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