Thinking back over my years in practice both community and private practice, I’d never put much thought into if most of the couples I’ve worked with were conflict avoidant or hostile. To be honest there has been a good mix of both. Luckily, I’ve known how to work with them and have been able to see some of the struggles. In this post, I will focus on hostile couples. If you are part of a relationship which is hostile even at times, there are a few things that likely stick with you. First, having important or deeper conversations are difficult because they tend to lead to fighting. Second, those in these relationships know how tops one another’s buttons and really upset one another. Third, members often spend a good amount of time thinking about how their partner has wronged them but not necessarily their role. The fourth and another important piece, you and your partner struggle with self-regulating/calming down in a healthy manner.
If any of this speaks to you, know you are not screwed and it is possible to turn your relationship around. Sadly, these and other relationships often end with an idea such as, “if this is supposed to work, why is it so hard?” I will answer this common question by attempting to draw a mental picture for you, the next time you are in your car, say you wanted to go straight forward but the car was stuck in reverse. The more you and your partner fight, the car is still going in reverse and no matter how badly wither of you want to go forward you cannot. I DO NOT recommend trying this as it is only an example. The next logical question would be, how do we switch from reverse to drive (or forward)? First, take your foot off the gas, put the break on.
There are several steps I won’t be breaking down in this post, but one of the most important tasks for a hostile couple is learning self-regulation and part of self-regulation is being mindful. Mindfulness for the purpose of this blog is being in the here and now. Be present. Often times wee get swept away by past learning and we continue to bring this learning into the present and it doesn’t help.
Once in the moment, self-regulation skills are needed to be implementing such as taking a few deep breaths and then recognizing you may need some time to relax and perhaps getting out of the present environment and one more appropriate for calming down for 15-20 minutes. Afterwards coming back together and working to repair the relationship. Some of this is likely ahead of where some reading this have been. I’d suggest therapy, the reason is because you can work with a trained therapist such as myself who can support you and your partner through the different steps to learn to calm down the hostility and afterwards, implement healthy skills to make it so you and your partner over time can learn to have important conversations and have the tools to not get upset with one another to the point nothing gets resolved.
I am also going to share, I’ve been in hostile relationships. When I was younger, I always felt it was the other person’s fault and I’d blame them. Some of the words used were terrible and hurtful. This isn’t about pity from anyone, it is me being accountable as I am asking you to be. These past relationships ended, in part because I was angry and unwilling to be accountable.
I’ve been blessed by being married to my wife who has accepted me for my flaws and our disagreements are a lot better than past relationships I’ve had and some of this is maturity, maybe all of it is, because I had to own up to my end. Working with hostile couples in the past, some partners would not own their parts, it was always a contingency on the other partner to change. This is crap.
When I work with a couple, hostile or not. A few expectations are in play. First, each partner identifies their own goals in session. Second, each partner is accountable for themselves. This means that if during an argument one partner says something that really hurt the other, that person does not get to say that their words were only said because the other partner did something that upset them. These are just two of the expectations that are not negotiable in therapy with me. Couples tend to get into a cycle of hurting one another and in therapy with me that is going to stop.
If this interests you feel free to contact me (PA /NJ residents) for a free consult via the “free consult” tab which is all over on my website or email Brian@themarriagedoc.com