You may have gotten together with your partner because of similarities, but eventually, over time, you began to see the differences.
Couples commonly connect over similarities and disagree over differences; not understanding and allowing for differences is most often what provokes anger.
Being angry isn’t a problem if anger can be handled constructively, however many couples have learned to use their anger in a destructive way. They may have grown up believing anger equals aggression, or that being angry confers the right to be out of control, disrespectful or act like a child.
Because of mistaken ideas about anger, many couples find themselves in a pattern of fighting that is not fair. Everyone loses. No one is safe and nothing ever gets resolved.
Here is a list of some of the common ways couples fight unfairly:
- Blaming rather than stating how you feel
- Threats of violence (or actual violence)
- Fighting late at night, at mealtimes, or other vulnerable times
- Being critical or sarcastic
- Saying “you always” or “you never”
- Screaming, with or without name-calling and abusive language
- Someone always has to be right and someone always has to be wrong
- Dramatic exits and/or threats of abandonment
- Refusing to stop when someone asks for a time-out
Creating Safety means bringing boundaries into your couple communication, identifying and eliminating unfair fighting. You create an agreement that allows you to use your feelings – especially anger — as information, create space for differences, respect each other’s need for time-outs and not damage, frighten or otherwise re-traumatize each other.
Sample Safety Guidelines for Couples
- No talking about triggering topics before work, at meals or in the car
- No sarcasm or name-calling
- No hanging up the phone on each other
- Use “I feel” statements
- If one person wants to stop, stop (but agree to talk at a later time)
- No blaming each other for hurt feelings
- Talk about painful feelings no more than 20 minutes at a time and not after 9 pm
- No threatening to leave the relationship
You can use any or all of these sample guidelines or create your own. There is no wrong way to create safety as long as both parties agree. Start small; changing any one of these items can have a big impact. Even talking about the desire to create safety for each other can have a profound effect on your relationship.