How to Stop Bickering
"Mindful Arguing For Couples"
Does it seem like you argue with your spouse or partner as often or more than you enjoy each others' company? Do you snarl at each other and say spiteful things when you're upset, and then regret it later? Do you care about each other but just can't seem to stop hurting each others' feelings? Do you keep having the same kinds of arguments over and over, and do they seem to always end in a big blowup, or in someone angrily leaving the room, with no resolution to the argument in sight?
According to Psychotherapist, Dr.Joseph Rhinewine, you can solve these problems and have a strong, loving and fun relationship again by learning and practicing a few simple behaviors called "Mindfulness Practices". These are based on meditation techniques but are much, much simpler and easier to apply. They take only moments to learn, but you will get better and better at them as you practice them repeatedly in your everyday life.
1. "STOP" -- As soon as you notice things moving into an angry, unproductive arguing space, STOP talking and breathe! Much of the damage we cause in our relationships results from not having the practice of simply stopping the flow of conversation in order to settle down before proceeding. This is not the same as angrily withdrawing and sulking. Instead, say something like, "Give me a moment, I need to settle down a bit." Stay in the room and practice some quiet breathing for a minute or two, with your eyes closed if that helps. You can discuss using this exercise ahead of time with your spouse or partner and get them "on-board" and with the program so that they let you take this crucial first step. Maybe they'll even start practicing this "STOP" step too!
2. "NOTICE FEELINGS" -- it's important that you become aware of how your body feels in this moment after you stop talking. Are there strong feelings present in your body? Scan your body briefly in your mind's eye, noticing sensations in your scalp, face, chest, back, belly and abdomen, even your hands and feet. Don't try to change your feelings, just notice them and make a mental note of what the feelings are, "I'm feeling angry/hurt/scared" or "I have a strong feeling of pressure in my chest." This helps us self-validate our feelings and breaks the cycle of denying and escalating feelings that often leads to outbursts or withdrawal.
3. "LABEL THOUGHTS" -- once you settle down even just a little bit, that will help you to begin to notice the angry and hurt thoughts you are having. See if you can boil down what you are thinking to a few words, like "He is so inconsiderate!" or "There she goes again putting words in my mouth!" Ask yourself whether this thought is helping move the conversation to a productive place, or whether the thought is motivating you to try and "win" a contest and prove you are right and s/he is wrong. Ask yourself: would you rather "win", or would you rather find ways to solve problems effectively in your relationship? You can't have both.
4. "RECALL VALUES" -- remember, you still haven't started talking again! Before you do, it's crucial that you get in touch with what you care about most, which is probably something other than "winning" every argument you have. You probably care about being loving and caring toward those close to you. You probably care about your children if you have any, and what kind of family you want to have. Remembering these values will help you to factor them in as you proceed in the conversation, and to choose ways of expressing yourself that are constructive rather than hurtful.
5. "PROCEED MINDFULLY" -- to communicate clearly, choose your words carefully and emphasize what you want, rather than what you think has already happened. So, "You really hurt my feelings" is much less helpful than "I would like you to take a more gentle tone with me in the future." Don't expect to solve the whole problem today. Instead, you can expect to help your spouse/partner understand a little better what you need, and help him/her to feel like you are taking his/her needs seriously. Ask him/her: "What would you like me to do differently? How can I help you to feel heard, to feel taken seriously?"
Remember, this is not a quick fix, but a way of doing things that will yield slow and steady results. Over several weeks you will see a real difference in your relationship, especially in terms of how you handle conflicts. If you get stuck, ask a therapist to help you and your spouse/partner implement and practice these steps.