A Big, Ugly Fight – Over Nothing!
A few years ago, Raj & I got into a big, ugly fight. Over NOTHING! He had been having a heavy load of technology hurdles (our 2nd greatest contributor to an argument emerging, right after #1, which is getting hangry), and was feeling quite stressed, frustrated and distracted. I was about to leave town for four days for a retreat with a nonprofit board I was on.
Really, I wanted him to come with me. I told myself it was fine, but deep down it was not. And you could feel the tension mounting as it got closer to me leaving and it became more real that I was going to have to go without him.
Now of course a fight is never about what you THINK it’s about. Raj & I had core differences around me being an extrovert and him being an extrovert. I wanted to be around people to recharge, whereas he wanted more alone time to recharge. These core differences ran deep and impacted many of our arguments.
I went to say goodbye, he was on a call, (an unimportant one from my perspective and certainly able to pull away for a moment to say goodbye). He was already in his ETF (Engulfed Turtle Flyer) mode and I was in my AHF (Abandoned Hurricane Fighter) mode. He barely said goodbye and I wanted more. Abandonment and Engulfment alarms started to blare.
Quickly it escalated, he got off his call and we got INTO IT. Yelling, tears, the whole nine yards.
I pressed in. He pulled away. Repeat. Escalate. You see where this is going?
After almost an hour of this insanity (after all he’s my lover, best friend, partner in life, lover and just a rock star of a human being so what were we doing?!), we had NOT resolved it, but I left anyway.
A Fight Is Never What You Think It Is About
What The Hell Just Happened?
Raj and I love each other deeply so once he gets the space he needs, and I unhook from feeling abandoned, we quickly return to owning our own upsets and triggers.
Once we unhook, we can then begin taking responsibility for our role in the fight, which includes: apologizing for our contribution to the creation and escalation of the fight, looking for the lessons to learn, and most importantly – putting new Peace Practices in place so we can diminish how often it happens, how bad it gets and how long it lasts.
So there I was, now faced with a five-hour solo road trip to think about what the hell just happened and more importantly how could I make sure it did NOT happen again.
Often, Extreme or Lasting?
One tool Raj & I use to both examine and evolve our arguments is to ask “How often does this happen?
How extreme does it get? And how long does it last?”
How OFTEN it happens is all about annoyances and irritations.
How long it LASTS is all about ownership, forgiveness and reconciliation.
How EXTREME it get is the BIGGIE. That one is all about trust.
Trust Is The Foundation Of All Relationships
It’s About Trust
If you know anything about human development or psychology, you know that trust is the foundation of all relationships. According to one of the founding fathers of child development, Erik Erikson, there are eight levels of development.
One of the main premises of Erikson’s theory is that you CAN’T move on to the next stage without handling the one before it FIRST.
The first level of emotional development is TRUST. If there’s no trust, there’s no safety, and if there’s no safety, there’s no intimacy OR vulnerability!
So it’s REALLY important that you evolve the ability to draw a line in the sand when necessary (in regards to how extreme or bad you’re willing to let an argument with your beloved get), and then perhaps even more important, you need to hold your ground and NOT cross this boundary that you’ve constructed, NO MATTER WHAT!
Lower Brain vs. Frontal Lobe
Now this is easier said than done because juuuuuust when you need a skill the MOST is usually when you have the LEAST access to it.
When we’re upset, our “lower brain,” the Amygdala, is running the show. This is the fight or flight part of the brain; it is our animal, reactive, survival instinct.
The Amygdala is certainly helpful when our lives are at risk.
But in today’s world, this part of our brain can wreak havoc on our lives, and it can especially do so in our most intimate relationships.
The Frontal Lobe is the compassionate, empathetic part of the brain.
It can see consequences coming, slow things down, see other perspectives, and act in support of the long term vision.
The Frontal Lobe emerged and evolved much later than the Amygdala and is commonly interrupted or even hijacked by the Amygdala, the Fight or Flight part of the brain.
This tip is all about how to disconnect from that fight or flight mode and return you to the bigger picture (frontal lobe) with your beloved.
The Amygdala Can Wreak Havoc On Our Lives
Are You More Fight or Flight?
Usually in a relationship there is one person who leans more towards “fight” one and one that leans more towards “flight.” Harville Hendrix, Ph.D and his wife Helen Hunt, Ph.D name these tendencies the Hurricane and the Turtle.
One person wants desperately to resolve the tension NOW (the Hurricane) and the other wants to get away, and give it space to address it LATER (the Turtle).
Another way of looking at it, is that usually one person in a relationship tends to feel “engulfed,” like too much is coming AT them, and the other tends to feel “abandoned,” like something is being taken away from them, or like they are being left behind and alone.
In Raj and my case, when our animal reactionary “lower” brain is triggered, I’m the abandoned Hurricane who tends to want to resolve the argument regardless of how bad it is getting (Fight), and Raj is the engulfed Turtle who wants some space and quiet time to think and process what is happening (Flight).
What’s An AHF & ETF To Do?
So what do you do when the Abandoned Hurricane Fighter (AHF), is swirling wildly and the Engulfed Turtle Flyer (ETF) just wants to take cover?
If you’re the AHF, you COULD keep pressing, leaning in and forcing your beloved to keep at it until it is “resolved.” But in reality you’re backing a scared, stressed, and hurt animal into a corner. THAT usually ultimately leads to the ETF, (who is doing all they can to get away and get to a safer place), lashing out and becoming a fighter just so they can get away.
This is an ugly escalation that can easily cause deep or even permanent damage to your relationship.
If you’re the ETF, you COULD try to pull away, walk away or just withhold & go silent.
But you would be doing so from a knee-jerk, unconscious, defensive, disconnected reaction. THAT usually leads to further infuriating the AHF, causing them to get even more angry. They are likely to yell and throw things or to say hurtful things that your relationship may never get over.
A Few Short Memorable & Meaningful Mantras or Messages
Short, Memorable & Meaningful
There is a way out of this mess!
When it starts to get heated and your AHF & ETF responses are getting triggered, it is best if you have a few short, memorable, and meaningful messages or mantras that can communicate quickly to your beloved.
You want this message or mantra to take you OFF the fast track to an ugly fight and instead move you ON the fast track to restoring compassion, respect, trust and to creating a satisfying resolution to both of you.
I asked myself what simple cue, signal or mantra could I come up with to use (and ask Raj to use too) to help us escape the slippery slope when our AHF and ETF got triggered in the future.
This is a So-So Moment
Sure, I wanted him to come with me and I wanted him to at least get off the call to say goodbye. Sure he was frustrated about his computer crashing and annoyed that I had pressured him to both come with me and to get off the phone.
This WAS a so-so moment. It did not feel good to either of us right from the start. But it was one of those so-so moments that could easily get SO much worse – and it did! But it DIDN’T have to. It WAS avoidable. It almost always is!
On that long drive, I came up with this idea, which Raj & I have now made into an agreement.
Our agreement is that if Raj is feeling engulfed and pushed into a corner, he will use this new message or mantra…
“This is a so-so moment.”
And if I was feeling abandoned and reaching to feel connected to him and our love, I could say to Raj “This is a so so moment.”
Which is shorthand for…
“I know this doesn’t feel very good right now. Still, it can SO easily get SO much worse. Remember, our love is an anchor. We aren’t going anywhere. Let’s come back to this when we are rested, relaxed and resourced.”
It can be pretty tough to say all that when you’re triggered, so a simple, “This is a so-so moment,” is enough of an effort to remind us of our agreement to let it be for the moment and to return to our commitment to resolve the conflict when we were more able to be calm, compassionate and creative.
It Is A Game WORTH Playing
Six Little Words = Awesome Anchor
Those six little words, inserted even in a heated moment, can be an awesome anchor to the agreement we made when we were in our higher selves, using our Frontal Lobes to express compassion, empathy and to see the bigger picture.
Raj & I are down from fighting 2-3 times a week when we first got together a decade ago (we had plenty of holes punched in our walls to show for it), to now just 2-3 fights a year. And it’s been at least five years since there’s been a hole in the wall! And this year, we’ve set a goal for only having one fight all year. It’s a game WORTH playing.
If your arguments get heated now, it does not have to get this bad or extreme.
When you are triggered and it looks like things might go south FAST, anchor to your agreement. Declare “This is a so-so moment” and save yourselves from it getting so much worse.
And remember, if you aim for progress, not perfection, pretty soon it will be better than you could have ever imagined.
You can check out our past blog articles on the topic of Fights Clean by clicking HERE!
Let’s play passion!
Your Partners in a P3 Relationship,