How to bounce back as a couple after conflict
November 11, 2016 8:47 AM   Subscribe

Everyone disagrees. We have conflicts that stretch out too much, and both wait on the other to establish a firm baseline of safety afterward. This results in our repair efforts getting thwarted it the reopening of wounds when we need to create positive forward movement. Please help.

My husband waits on me to prove things are safe after a conflict before he relaxes and acts like a safe person. Some of that is totally my fault, hit I don't always have the presence of mind or willpower to set the tone like that. Also, the conflict can be about anything, but we both have a hard time just moving forward when it is done. He will be reticent watching for adequate proof that things are OK. I will have trouble acting like things are ok because he is reticent. What do we do?
posted by crunchy potato to Human Relations (11 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
"I need you to come and hug me and reassure me things are ok. I will never turn away from you when you do that."
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:49 AM on November 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

Besides the obvious (have sex, hug, snuggle) I would say you should cut this problem off before it becomes a problem by changing your argument/disagreement style.

Most people "kind of know" how to argue well, and get the basics. Like "no name calling" or "don't yell" or "use I statements" - yeah, yeah. But to truly make it an art, you have to advance to the next level. You have to chose each word, each statement, with absolute care. You have to start saying, "Yes, and" instead of "but." You have to ignore a lot of failings on the part of your partner and see through their defensive arguing to the feelings underneath. Sometimes this requires psychoanalyzing them (in a subtle, non-condescending way) during the argument itself. "Honey, I am wondering if maybe you feel xyz because of when I said abc?" Stating their side of the argument back to them is hugely helpful- like a lawyer. "My opponent here thinks xyz because they feel abc. They are not wrong. I understand my opponent's point. But, we need to look at this differently because of blah blah..." You get the idea. It takes energy and effort and is really hard, but rewarding.

I think if you learned to argue/disagree in a better way, there would not be these lingering bad feelings and no sense of closure.
posted by stockpuppet at 9:05 AM on November 11, 2016 [16 favorites]

Can you talk about it when it is happening? Maybe give it a name like "the safety cycle". Can you say, after a fight, "I think we are in the safety cycle again. What do you think?" Then your partner could say, "Yeah. I'd like to approach but I don't think it is safe." And you can say, "If you were willing to approach, I would like that." And then maybe that would make a safe enough for you both to try. Or he could say, "I'm still pretty mad about this, I'm not ready to talk." And then you would know where you stood.

If you want to be able to have a deeper conversation about your relationship dynamics, try Sue Johnson's book Hold Me Tight - it is a structured set of conversations focused on exactly this issue. If you get the book and like the idea but it is hard to do the conversations, you could also try one of the weekend Hold Me Tight workshops. Expensive but you get focused time to work on your relationship plus professional help in making the conversations safer.
posted by metahawk at 9:21 AM on November 11, 2016 [7 favorites]

My husband waits on me to prove things are safe after a conflict before he relaxes and acts like a safe person.

I'm not sure why you always have to initiate, unless maybe he feels he's not good at picking up signals of when you're ready to move forward? Could you and your husband work out a code? Like, he makes tea or something that you both could enjoy and share a quiet moment over. So you get a positive signal from him without him feeling he's potentially rushing you or putting himself out there too much(or whatever holds him back?). You could also do the same thing, obviously.
posted by ghost phoneme at 9:30 AM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

fingersandtoes has the right idea, as long as each of you on your own can come up with that one special trigger that will actually work, for you. It's very person-by-person.

Also, it's so easy to forget that we all have different cool-down periods before our powers of rationality are available again. So it's unfortunately rather incumbent on whoever calms downs faster to shut the fuck up and wait until the other person has reached theirs, too, rather than immediately rushing ahead and try to fix things right now because I am now ready.

A lot of rokusans and other idiots tend to do that.
posted by rokusan at 9:49 AM on November 11, 2016 [6 favorites]

I was going to suggest Hold Me Tight as well. This is exactly what it is about.
posted by Violet Hour at 10:14 AM on November 11, 2016

This is actually what marriage counseling is for: communication training and coaching from a professional. It's really better in the context of both of you pursuing individual counseling from other therapists so that you can do your personal work separately, but there's still some help to be had from joint coaching.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:32 AM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

You previous threads give me the impression that there is a history of a dynamic between you and your husband where he expects you to do all or most of the adulting, leading to an enormous amount of strain on you which has sometimes resulted in you lashing out at him. This scenario sounds very much like the same patterns repeating.

Why is it your responsibility to be the one with the presence of mind and willpower to set the tone?

Is there a history of you rebuffing your husband when he tries to reach out to make up with you? And if so is that because he's just decided that you should be "over" something that's a genuine and ongoing problem for you? I think the previous answers are good about having a mutually agreed safe/truce signal but if this is part of a wider dynamic then that might be tougher to implement and you might need to think about going back to joint therapy or thinking about whether this is working out.
posted by *becca* at 10:34 AM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

To address *becca* his hesitation comes most often from anxiety because I have a history of being unpredictable due to personal issues so if he tries something it might be wrong (I am working on this) . I have explained to him that holding me will soften anything but he gets flustered in the moment and forgets. Our communication is generally better but when a conflict drags out, this period of destabilization is pretty common for us. We get into fight or flight and neither of us self-soothe well.

I have tried to find a couples counselor who does Emotionally Focused therapy because attachment needs are absolutely what I am struggling with. None in our area are suitable, but perhaps we could use the workbook together.

Thanks for all the additional quality replies. The previous posts from me related to unequal balance of responsibility have been resolved. We work together better and recognize each other's contributions better, in fact we are in the first month. of coparenting and have navigated it all very well. Added as context for those who are viewing post history.
posted by crunchy potato at 11:01 AM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

for us, this means more talking is required, pretty much as metahawk described (it's a frustrating place to be and you have my sympathy).
posted by andrewcooke at 12:44 PM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Each of you need to take ownership of your own stability and safety. Each of you waiting for the other to do that work for you is what is causing you to fail.

I recommend this all over the place in MeFi, and I'll recommend it to you too. Love Without Hurt by Steven Stosny is excellent about exactly this dynamic and has really good, concrete practices for grounding yourself and shoring up your own capability to do this.

I know how hard it is to be in this cycle because I've been there. You can only be responsible for what you do, how you cope, how you soothe yourself. You can't make him learn how to do those things; you can't make him overcome his fear and conditioning to be supportive to you. You can hope that he grows in that direction, but you can't do it for him.

It's important for both partners to give *and to receive* emotional support. If you have a partner that will not recognize how critical it is to have and use those skills to relationship, and who not will develop them on his own initiative, you really cannot make him do it. You can either choose to do without, or exit the relationship.

I wish there were an easier answer, but I don't think there is one.

Take care of yourself.
posted by Sublimity at 3:51 PM on November 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

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