Transcript: Ep 115: Fighting Done Right: Emotions or Actions?
Welcome to the Us And Kids Podcast. We are glad you are here. I am Jan Talen, a wife, a mom, a grandma, and a marriage and family therapist.
I wanted to let you know that the Us And Kids Communication Program is open again! It is an effective and efficient communication program. Build your skills for connecting you with your spouse and your kiddos - at the same time. It's eight modules long. And has lots of professional support that leads you through great personal and relationship skills that will help to tone down the tensions and build up the connections. It's fun and it's practical. Check it out on the website today.
Welcome to Us and Kids. This podcast is about how to stay married forever while you parent together.
I am your host. Talen. I'm a marriage and family therapist, a wife, a mom, and grandma. I will share with you my professional knowledge and thoughts and real life experiences about how to have a great marriage even when you parent those little ones together.
The Us and Kids Communication Program is ready for you to build up your marriage and upgrade your parenting skills all in one place. The program expands on the ideas you learn from these podcasts and gives you great tools and skills for your marriage and for being with your kids. I hope you will join us there too.
For today, let's get started. We're going to talk about that fight that does not seem to ever end. This might be a fight between you and one of your kiddos, but really I'm going to focus on the fight that can happen between you and your spouse. It's a fight that you think gets done, and then it comes back again and it goes away for three months or three years, but it comes back again and you're like, “How come this isn't settled?”
It's the fight that seems to not have an end date. And in Michigan right now, it's time for spring. Things are slushy. They're sort of ugly. The trees have yet to find any bugs or during a rain. The snow is dark and brown. The slush makes our cars filthy, playing outside is messy and muddy. And we're all a little weary of not enough sun. And this, in Michigan and other parts of the world makes for a wonderful atmosphere for a good old fight.
Well, what about you? Do you have a season or a time of the year where you're more tempted to fight or bicker with each other than other times of the year?
What are those topics that still pop up - That you've talked about together, but the solution seemed superficial. And so the itch to still argue about it, or comment about it lingers around the corner, frequently giving way for a good fight or an ugly fight.
When the tired, when the overwhelmed, when the under loved and the lonely moves in, it often moves in just three degrees. And you just can't manage it anymore.
Well, what do we do with those arguments that seem to keep showing up? We thought we had it solved. It worked three times, maybe three weeks. It'd be good for three months, but now it's back to the old way. And that old conversation is here without much hope for a new result.
Many, many, many couples have ongoing conversations about tension points, behaviors, ways that they read each other's actions or attitudes that create fear, a sense of dislike or disrespect. And when one of those emotions gets tickled, even if it was supposed to be in fun, the fireworks start all over again.
Is there a way to really do this conversation once and for all the answer to that is yes.
But let's start with the no first and get that out of the way. Not all conversations can be closed once and for all, because we hope that you will continue to change and to grow as a couple so that what might be a good solution and a cooperative genuine connection with each other at this time might need to change or adjust over time.
For example, the solution for bedtime in our household when we just had two kids was fairly easy. We could manage it. One of us could do just fine with both kids. So if one of us had to work late, it was doable. It wasn't totally exhausting for just the other person to manage it for a nightime. And we just cooperated with that.
There were times when my husband had to work more than I had to work. And so I had more bedtimes during the week than he did, but it wasn't really overstressing or crazy-making between us because of the times for that instance, we weren't that tired… At least compared to when we had 4 kids.
The infant usually nursed and then quietly fell asleep and would be awake again somewhere around that midnight to one o'clock timeframe. And that gave me time to bathe and read stories and snuggle with the other one as they fell asleep. But when we added kiddos three and four, the bedtime became more lengthy and more chaotic with morning. This variety of ages for our eight years old to our infant created a lot of different needs, all going on at the same time, baths, teeth, cleaning up, different story preferences, who wanted the light on, who wanted the light off, who pushed me, who touched me.
All of this created that emotional activity that was happening in a short amount of time. Of course, the infants picked up on the tension and responded with less willingness to cuddle and go to sleep, which of course added to the internal chaos inside of us adults and the parents who are already weary from parenting much of the day.
You and I know parenting two is different from parenting four. And so our conversations about how to manage bedtime and who could be gone and how many nights they could be gone in a row changed over time. We reworked who managed that, when to quietly step in or assist, because one of us had had it and we're going to lose our cool. And for a while we realized we needed both of us most of the time to get this household settled down before midnight. And so we did some division of labor. My husband was much better at getting the kiddo's teeth brushed and he was better at reading stories, with energy and helping the kids laugh. I was better with slow back rugs and patiently letting someone unwind while I just sat next to them.
In our conversations between my husband, Chipper, and myself, we agree that keeping the tears, and the volume of tears, not just one person's tears, but the noise of the tears to a minimum was helpful to us and to the kids. And that often became our goal during bedtime, even though it took a bit longer, it stayed quieter and we considered that a win. It took longer, but it was quieter and for us is what we agreed to.
So let's go back to that first thought. Is it possible to get a conversation to be done once and for all? And the answer was not always. It is okay to revisit a conversation when the circumstances change. And in our case, we needed to change because the circumstances with a number of kiddos going to bed at the same time changed.
But the circumstance might also change just within you. It's when it's not working for you anymore and being able to explain it, owning it yourself. So I was able to say, as we had kiddos three and four, “I'm too weary by the end of the day to really have my brain stay calm when it's bedtime, I really need you around more often.” I had to say that change within me and my husband had to take the time to listen and absorb what that would mean for him and his work schedule. And he did. And we did.
You see, when an argument is revisited over and over and over again, it's often because the solution was sought and bought into before the emotions were really explained and explored. So that's some of what my husband and I had to do as we were looking at this conversation around bedtime. Again, we had to understand what our emotions were, what were our worries? Where were we too weary? Where were we too lonely? Where did we really need help? And what did that look like? We had to explain and explore those emotions together. If we rushed. Then our arrangements and our agreements did not work. We were not in total sync with each other and one of us would sabotage it.
You see arguments that come back into the relationship over and over again are usually ignoring a question that is core to your relationship. And that question usually is, “Do I matter to you? Or have you spent all your energy at work and you just expect me to be and do, but I don't really matter to you.”
Do I matter to you?
Am I important to you more important than work, more important than the client? I don't know.
Am I safe with you?
Will you protect my level of weariness and overwhelm and loneliness?
Will you do it with me so that together we are stronger and safer.
Do you love me fully, unconditionally?
Those are often the core questions that are not being asked and not being satisfactorily answered.
That makes a conversation come up over and over again.
So let's say that there is an ongoing tension about getting the dishes done and the kitchen cleaned up. There are different definitions about what “dishes done “means and what “kitchen clean” means.
One of you says dishes done means they're in the sink or in the dishwasher. Kitchen clean means there's room to make a sandwich on the countertop.
However, the other one of you says dishes done means, washed, dried, put away in the cupboard kitchen. Clean means there's nothing on the counter top. The refrigerator has been wiped down. The chairs are not sticky and the floor is clean. We could eat off from it.
All of those are sort of extremes in my mind, but we can see where those two different perspectives could have a lot of messaging in it about,
“Do you respect?
Does my brain and my energy matter to you when you asked me or expect me to clean the kitchen so that it would pass restaurant health codes.
“I hear you don't want me to save energy for you, that you value the clean kitchen more than you value me.
And that makes me lonely.
And I don't want to put all my energy into the kitchen because I really get a lot of energy by being with you…until and when you reject me because the kitchen isn't clean, then I'm doubly lonely.”
“And when you help me with the kitchen or you say, it's good enough, come on and sit by me. Let's watch this YouTube. Or let me play the guitar and give you a back rub. Then I know I'm important to you. And when I know that. When I'm confident of that, then I get more energy to clean the kitchen.”
That can be one person's perspective.
Did you hear how it included the emotional component of their emotional energy, where they prefer to spend it? Do you hear how loneliness plays a role in the energy we have for household activities and expectations? Did you hear the positive things that can happen when we take the time to be with our spouse to show them that we care more about them than we care about things or actions?
OK, now let's flip that song.
There's another perspective going on here. Is that person really supposed to totally dump their perspective of wanting a clean, neat, organized kitchen? They don't really feel safe or calm when their visuals around the kitchen are so chaotic. Their anxiety goes up when things are messy and they feel disrespected or ignored, sort of jittery and shaky, especially emotionally. When things are so messy for them, it's very hard to relax and to connect. And they feel lonely too because they want to connect and they want to enjoy maybe even 10 minutes with their spouse with good smiles and nice conversation, some eye contact, maybe even some skin contact, but their energy for that gets drained away by the mess in the kitchen.
What did you notice?
Did you see both of them are lonely. Neither one of them really wants to fight about the kitchen and neither one of them really wants a fully messy kitchen or a fully clean kitchen. They just want to find a way to keep the health department out of their house in a way to keep the love and the romance in their house.
And so when you can take the time to create safety so that you can talk about how your emotions and your worries are playing a role into the argument, you probably then can find a solution.
How does this work in real life?
It means that genuinely and frequently you show care to your spouse, it means that you frequently care about how your spouse feels towards you.
You're talking about how we are, are we connected?
So here is the conversation from this couple about their kitchen situation.
We have Sue and Ron.
Sue says, “ I'm so lonely for you by the end of the day. I don't care what the kitchen looks like. I just want to look at you. I just want you to look at me.”
Ron: So you want to look at me and that gives you energy.
Sue: Yes. If we had a few minutes together and maybe even if we put up a show for the kids and we sit on the couch or in our bedroom for a few minutes, I could just see you. I would feel so much more put together and less rattled. And then if you played with the kids after dinner for 20 minutes, I probably could get a lot of those dishes done.
But when you give your energy to your phone and to the kids, and haven't said anything to me besides the scowl because this kitchen was messy..Whew, I feel like you just don't like me and you don't want to be with me.
Ron: I thought it was doing right by playing with the kids. I thought if I just got them out of the kitchen, you could clean it up.
Sue: I do want to clean it up, but honey, I am exhausted from thinking like a kid all day. And when you talk to me, you help me move my brain into the adult world a little bit. When you look at me like I'm a human being, it helps me feel a little more secure, especially when you're happy to see me. Then all of a sudden my brain goes positive and I can think about how to tackle and prioritize what's going on. I'm not trying to leave it messy to make you mad. I just don't have any more brain power.
Ron isn’t so sure. “Seems like you are messy enough because you're trying to send a message to me that I am not home enough. And that really insults how hard I am working for this family.
Sue: I would like you to see that difference. Please hear genuinely with your ears, that I am lonely for you. I know you are working your tail off, and I know that neither one of us has a ton of energy for this relationship because we have so much going on.
I think we would be better if we touched base for a little bit, once you got home, if we saw each other, just us for a bit.
Ron: So you're not trying to send me ugly messages that I'm not doing enough. That I'm not enough.
Sue: No, Ron, I'm not. I'm trying to say that I love you and I need you. We need to be a team, Ron.
Ron: Well, it's good to hear you say that you appreciate my efforts at work and that you like to see me be with the kids. It's good to hear you say that you love me and that you need me. You often look so capable to me, especially when it comes to being at home and taking care of the things here. Sometimes I feel lonely and unneeded to.
Sue: Well, if we're both lonely, why don't we just become good friends again? Maybe we're still good friends, but we could be better friends. I am wondering if there's a particular part of the kitchen that would really settle you down that maybe I could get that part more under control before you come home.
And then I wonder if we could spend some time together, just away from the kids, just even five minutes, if we just hugged and we told each other something good and we reminded each other that we matter to each other.
Ron: I would be willing to try something like that. I don't want you to feel like I'm always mad at you. I'm not, I'm just overwhelmed and weary from work. And when I come home to see that messy kitchen, I am overwhelmed.
I'm going to try to remember that that boost of energy to clean the kitchen will come when I give you hugs and kisses and a few minutes of actual attention.
So Sally and Ron tried this arrangement for a bit.
They realized that attention, time, and affirmation were really important to them staying connected. They also realized that when the kitchen was a mess and was irritating them again, for some reason, it was important not to take it personally, but just gently revisit how they as a couple were doing. Often the messy kitchen was related to being overwhelmed, discouraged, and feeling disconnected.
When they reassured each other genuinely and gently that they mattered to each other, that if they needed time and the kitchen had to wait, they would do that. Their relationship was more important than dirty dishes.
And so they took care of each other. They took care of the needs and the hunger of the other.
And in that they felt more secure, more trusting that their spouse was on their side. Their spouse was for them, not critical of them, not rejecting them, but rather wanting each of them to be their best in the best way that they can.
So, if you are looking to have another of the same conversation, again, a few tips:
One of them is to slow down…
… your heart rate, your breathing rate, how fast you talk, how loud you talk, how fast your eyes move,
slow it all down.
It helps the brain track easier and becomes less anxious. This often is easier to do if there's an actual scheduled time to talk.
Put the topic on the table or on the calendar.
This gives both of you time to think about what I actually want to say? How do I actually want to present? What are my needs?
The prep for this is in thinking about your self. And being ready to understand your spouse's self so that you speak truthfully and kindly about you and you absorb with love and grace and care what's happening for your spouse.
So this is organizes your own thoughts and feelings so that you can explain to your spouse what's happening inside of you in a way that's not demeaning or name calling.
Practice it until you can say it with kindness and truth.
Practice it in the shower, practice it in the car, practice it while you're running. Truth set outside of love is often not well-received and it's not because it wasn't true. It's because it was missing the love.
Going deep within yourself to deliver truth in a very loving way is very important to resolving these ongoing arguments.
Be sure that you are showing up emotionally and mentally to the scheduled time with your wise mind, your kind heart and your considerateness. This means you haven't had too much alcohol or drugs. It means you're not so terribly exhausted that you can't keep your eyes up.
It means that your phones are not by you and are out of sight and out of hearing.
Be attentive to your relationship.
Then practice some of the best practices for conversation.
Don't interrupt each other.
Use short sentences and pause so the other person can interject or can add and understand without needing to interrupt because you're 40 sentences in.
Use the five sentences, pause, five sentences, pause, method.
No name calling or insults.
Listen to their actual words. Don't assume this is what they mean. Ask if it's what they think.
Don't use insinuation or agenda. Just get clarification.
When emotions are tense or intense, go slower, go softer, sort it out. Listen to the emotions and work, to understand and empathize with the emotions on both sides.
Empathizing just means you're right there with them. The emotion is yours. It's not right or wrong. It is. It's like eye color.. It just is.
The solutions become easier when we understand it, we empathize.
Solutions usually last, when you both agree that the solution is and will be for a while, a win for both of you. If one of you is pressured or sort of bullied into agreeing, the agreement won't last because the message underneath is that “I am more important than you.”
And that will create disconnection and loneliness.
Those are the two emotions that are often the basis for making long-term disagreements.
I'm more important than you and I don't want to connect with you.
I don't want to be all in with you.
So work your solution so that you are both staying connected, genuinely valued, and respected.
And content adult relationships almost always have these conversations to work. So keep on working through them. There are solutions, when we deeply and sincerely consider the emotional hunger underneath the request. And as you care for each other's emotional space, you will see that the solutions are really okay.
We teach this skill about how to argue well and come to a really good solution. And we give you professional support right along with it in the Us And Kids Communication Program. So if you're feeling pretty stuck and that you are in deeper than just what this podcast can fix. Then go on to the Us and Kids, and check out the program.
If you want to see how I teach and apply what I know, then hop on that free workshop. I teach three core skills in that workshop that you can start to use right now.
Thank you for taking the time to join me today. It's not a really fun conversation until it becomes a fun conversation with good results and solutions.
I'm cheering for you to be in it with each other,
be in it for each other,
be in it for the win, because winning is FUN.
It's Unlimited in the conversations and experiences you can have together.
And it's Naturally good.
I'm cheering for you.
I'd love to meet you in the Us and Kids Program and wishing you a wonderful conversational day.
Oh yes - and don't forget the free printable!