When two strong minds clash…

…how does a couple get unstuck?

This came up as a question from someone who has been trying tools from my book, The Relationship Ride. Clearly, she and her partner are working hard with the skills, and they find that they still are reaching total impasses. Here’s what she says: “Both of us believe so adamantly that we are right and are not being HEARD by the other and neither will budge.  Anger levels escalate.”

Have you had that experience? Have you ever said (yelled) something like, “YOU AREN’T HEARING ME!!!!”? with the idea that a LOUDER VOICE will certainly help you get heard?

It is increasingly clear to me that, once in Reactive Brain, there is no point in trying to talk about an issue. Once your fight/flight/freeze response has been triggered, your perspective will be skewed: Your partner switches from friend to foe, possibilities shrink down to immediate survival concerns, and you’ll see the world through filters of fear, anger, and sadness.

So, what do you do if you’re in the middle of the battle of titan wills? Here’s what I’d suggest:

  • Notice–anything! Just noticing that you’re stuck will help. Or maybe go past this, to noticing your fists are clenched, or the tightness of your throat, or how your vision has narrowed.
  • Take some long, slow, deep breaths (to help you move out of the fight/flight response).
  • Do something to change your posture. Going to get a drink of water, going into the bathroom (no one argues with someone going to the bathroom) will help you change your perspective.
  • Stop talking! (Follow John Gottman’s rule of thumb: If your pulse is higher than 90 beats/minute, talking is ineffective).
  • Interrupt your thinking with any sort of distraction, including doing a crossword puzzle, taking a walk, singing Dixie–anything to get your brain to untangle itself from the subject at hand.
  • Do something to engage your body. Put on loud music and dance; hop on one foot; move your hands around.
  • Wait to talk more about the issue until your adrenaline has moved through your body, which can take 15-30 minutes.

Notice that none of these suggestions state “talk about the issue until you solve it” or “work hard to convince your partner of your point of view.” I promise you–really!!–that this won’t work. So save time and energy; shift your body, and you’ll shift your perspective.

Two more days to get the Early Bird price for the Relationship Ride online community (good until 10/1/11)! Email Verna Wilder at VJWilder@Me.com for more information.

2 thoughts on “When two strong minds clash…”

  1. Julie, I love this reminder about what it means to be in reactive brain and how (relatively) easy it is to shift. I notice that when I first started doing this work, I wasn’t convinced it would work, but I kept trying it anyway, and I gradually gained insight into what I was holding onto and what I was willing or unwilling to let go of. I started to “see” myself and others from a different perspective, one that lets me see the world as a much friendlier place. I still get mad and have conflicts with people I love, but now I have some tools. All I need is my own willingness to use them!

  2. Bravo! Way to build your muscle about crossing the bridge back into Creative Brain. Let us know more about what helps your willingness…

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