Have you ever found yourself in the midst of an argument with your partner, without having a clear idea where the argument started, why, and what are you arguing about? I surely did, and I bet the “deer in the headlights” look on my face gave away my discombobulation.Not only did I find myself in this predicament, but also I heard many similar stories from my couples counseling practice clients in Beverly Hills and Valencia.
This wide-eyed “deer in the headlights” stare usually does very little to improve our situation and if anything, makes our spouse more upset. Apparently, lack of understanding in an argument is a poor defense strategy. It incriminates us and makes us guilty until proven innocent, even if we are in a dark regarding the nature of our offense.To make things worse, the less clear we are about the reason for our partner’s upset, the more upset they get!
As a psychologist and a psychotherapist working in marriage counseling and couples counseling I have the unique opportunity of being invited to observe the relationships of my clients. In this article I am offering us to look into the Emotion Based Argument and strategies to make it go away, while improving our relationships. Think of it as a marriage counseling and couples counseling packaged in 5 quick minutes just for you.
The Emotion Based Argument (EBA), unlike the Reason Based Argument (RBA), is the argument that makes no sense. It is fueled by feelings and does not abide by the laws of logic and reason. When marriage counseling clients attempt to explain the argument, it rarely makes sense. The surface issue is just an excuse to have the argument and the emotions seem to be out of proportion in relationship to the issue couple seems to be arguing about.
Since the EBA is fueled by emotion, the more emotion is poured into the argument by a couple, the more out of hand the EBA can get. In couples counseling and marriage counseling sessions I tend to intervene and stop these type of arguments, however, outside of my office the couple has to learn how to handle the EBA on their own. Knowing how to handle an EBA could be one of the major relationship savers, and once addressed, could provide a powerful source of connection and renewed intimacy for a couple.
Bringing logic to Emotion Based Argument is like bringing a knife to a gunfight. EBA tends to be more volatile than RBA and on the surface it also tends to make less sense. In my Beverly Hills and Valencia practice I learned that the EBAs actually seem to be more frequent in relationships. Finding a way to turn an EBA into an intimacy-enhancer is the purpose of this article. Instead of draining fights and emotional distance resulting from mutual misunderstanding, let’s make a good use of EBA and turn it into an eco-friendly energy source to power up our love and life!
Emotion Based Argument differs from Reason Based Argument, since it lacks a clear issue that caused the argument, or perhaps the emotional reaction to the issue at stake is out of proportion in relationship to the surface issue of the argument. It is frequently accompanied with a thought “Why is s/he so upset about this small thing?”
The funny thing is that your partner might be as unclear about the reason for their upset as you are. Although the reason for the negative emotion fueling the argument might be a mystery, the emotion itself is being expressed through any immediately available venue, such as “Why didn’t you take out the trash!”
The key point here is that the surface issue is a non-issue. The root of the EBA lays deep underneath the surface, and knowing this now you are equipped by a relationship ninja skill to turn the toxic arguments into intimacy and passion in your relationship.
The root cause of the EBA is in the cause of negative emotion experienced by your partner. This could be not feeling loved, supported, nurtured, cared for, important, etc. It is not your job to guess – we can always ask.
The root issue also does not have to be part of the relationship or marriage, and could be a personal issue for your partner, such as health, career, existential crisis of meaning, etc. Whatever the issue might be, it generates negativity that is spilled into the relationship through one EBA or a pattern of EBAs that make a relationship or marriage challenging.
Now that you understand the Emotion Based Argument, let’s get down to the ninja know-how of transforming the EBA into the white lotus of intimacy.
Beverly Hills and Valencia Psychotherapy Step 1: Stay calm and breathe.
This one is really important! You don’t need to be a psychologist to know that any immediate response that comes to you will always be the wrong thing to say! Just breathe and give yourself a moment to regroup.
Beverly Hills and Valencia Psychotherapy Step 2: Apologize.
Yes, I know you haven’t done anything that would require an apology. If you need my psychotherapist empathy here – you got it. This is one of the instances where it is better to be smart, than right, wouldn’t you agree? The alternative is an escalating negative feelings and mutual resentment. Pick your poison. My sincere recommendation, not just as a psychotherapist, but also as a husband, is to apologize first, and ask questions later.
Here is a more specific couples counseling and marriage counseling trick for you: nice way to apologize without knowing what you are apologizing for is – “I didn’t mean to make you upset – I am sorry.” Another one is – “ You are right. I should have done that. I am sorry.” Your partner expects anything but an apology, so by surprising them with your sincere apology, you immediately defuse the situation.
The caveat is that the apology has to be sincere. Your partner knows you well and trying to wiggle your way out of this one by offering quick “sorry!” will not do. As a matter of fact, you can always apologize for the negative feeling they are currently experiencing, and move to the step #3.
Beverly Hills and Valencia Psychotherapy Step 3: Ask questions.
Now it is the right time to find the issue behind the bad feelings your partner seems to experience. Be gentle and loving when you do this, and avoid implying that your spouse has a problem. Instead, ask them what has been going on and whether there is something that makes them upset. Point out that you want to know to make things better for both of you. Let your partner think about it, or cool off if they need to. You can offer them to talk later today. It is a bad idea to postpone the conversation to another day. Tomorrow never comes.
Beverly Hills and Valencia Psychotherapy Step 4: Talk about it.
I am a psychologist and a psychotherapist, and despite the common belief, I do not like “talking about it” either. It is the outcome of the talk that I enjoy the most. You know whether the talk was a success by the result of the conversation with your spouse. If you feel connected and your understanding of your partner increased – Excellent! You are a certified relationship ninja!
The goal of a conversation is to increase your understanding of your partner. Find out what is the source of the distress, irritability, anger, sadness, etc. In case the root is in your relationships or marriage, discuss ways to resolve the issue and be even more fulfilled together. If the root is in the stressors that are personal to your partner, such as her or his career, for example, talk about what can be done to reduce your partner’s stress at home. Discuss different ways to make things better and notice how good it feels to be connected, working together on the same team, increasing your mutual happiness.
This is one of the ways of transforming unpleasant and potentially toxic relationship waste into an eco-friendly source of infinite joy, fulfillment, and happiness in you relationships!