Go ahead…gently put down the verbal boxing gloves, and walk away…for at least 30 minutes. If you and your partner are having “knock down drag out fights” then there has undoubtedly been a lot of emotional damage done. It is times like these that a timeout could prevent further damage from occurring. This is what I tell the many couples who come to me for help. If tempers are flaring and the more you “talk” the worse it gets, then take some time away from each other. It can be for a half hour or more, but never let it wait until the next day. You might go for a walk, or listen to music, putter in the garage, or my favorite…take a bubble bath.
When a couple is having an argument, the person with higher levels of testosterone in their body will take longer to “come down” from their anger in order to be able to have a calm conversation. What happens is, the testosterone binds with adrenaline to cause a “Fight or Flight” response in the body. It takes at least 30-60 minutes for the brain chemistry to level out.
Now I’m not suggesting you simply storm out. That can be very hurtful and confusing. Keep in mind the phrase “Name it to Tame it.” For example, you can say, “I’m feeling reactive right now and I think I need to calm down. Then I really do want to hear what you have to say.” Let your partner know that you are taking a little time to think, because you value your relationship. It is also helpful to give an approximate time that they can expect you to return. Make an appointment to talk about the situation, after tempers have cooled.
I teach couples a method of communication called The Imago Dialogue. Often times, a couple is yelling at each other because they don’t feel that they are being heard. This process slows the communication down and ensures that each person is being heard.
Taking that first step of contacting a counselor can be difficult, but you have to start somewhere. My feeling is, “It’s Never Too Late To Live Happily Ever After.”
Depression Can Be a Couple's Issue
“When Mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy!” The reality is that when one member of a family or a couple is unhappy or depressed, it can’t help but have an effect on the others around them. This can happen in many different ways. Just as an example… Have you ever been in a really good mood and found that it just went away? Sometimes it happens insidiously. You could be going through your day and then someone around you, maybe a coworker, or a friend is depressed, and next thing you know your good mood is nothing but a distant memory.
Another poignant example happened when I was in graduate school. A classmate said,” I lived through the great depression.” I quickly did the math and thought, I don’t think so. Then he finished, “my mother’s!” I bet his mother had no idea that her depression had such an impact on her son. When a person is depressed they tend to draw inward and focus on themselves and their own unhappiness, and may become oblivious to those around them.
A particularly common component of depression is low self-esteem or self-doubt. Often times, this energy and criticism will be directed at the self. However, it is also common for the depressed person to look to others in their life, and think of them as the problem. “If I wasn’t with so-and-so, I’d be happy.” Then, the depressed person starts to become critical of those around them, particularly their partner. As an Imago Relationship Therapist, I work with this common concern that couples bring into couple counseling. There is a clinical name for this, besides depression, Projection. Projection is when a person is incapable of looking at their own “dark side.” Instead they project their own insecurities and discontent onto the other person in the relationship. Oftentimes this is when people might leave a relationship, only to find that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
Unfortunately, depression makes people crave a broad-scale change in their life. “If I could just buy that fancy new sports car,” or “If I could move to somewhere else, then I’d be happy.” The problem with this “solution” is, wherever you go…there you are.