The Ultimate Guide to End Arguing And Fighting
Why We Argue and Fight?
To understand the real reason couples argue and fight you’ll need to know about early life development. (NOTE: Much of I will be talking about here relates very closely to developmental trauma for some people. Oprah recently did an episode with 60-Minutes...you can find it here.)
From the minute you are born you are wired to survive. Your brain will figure out what it needs to do to guarantee your survival.
When negative “stuff” who’s up you will instantly engage survival routines that are hard wired into you.
When you understand why survival routines develop you’ll be able to resolve arguing and fighting dynamics permanently. In other words, you will be dealing with the root cause and not a band aid solution.
I will try to explain this in as simple possible language but you may need to read it a couple times to really “get it.”
Your Memory System
First, you need to know we have a memory system.
It’s the part of your biology that remembers things. And there are two types and both are uniquely useful.
The first one is called implicit memory or muscle memory and the second one is called explicit memory or narrative memory.
Muscle Memory (or implicit memory)
The best way to understand implicit memory is to think of playing an instrument, playing a sport, or driving a car or bike. Over time, and with practice, you get better-and-better at the activity.
After a while, you don’t have to remember each detail when you repeat the activity. In fact, the more you repeat it, the more it becomes second nature to you.
The repetition, of whatever it is you are doing, causes it to eventually be unconscious.
Part of what happens when the pattern you’ve adopted goes “unconscious” is you no longer question what you are doing. You simply do it or believe your response is the best response.
Are you with me so far? We’ll connect the dots here soon enough about why that affects you in your current relationship.
Explicit Memory (or narrative memory)
The easiest way to remember explicit memory is to think of telling a story from your past. With this type of memory your brain knows it’s from the past as it recalls the event.
It’s what allows you to tell a story one step at a time.
Why These Two Memory Systems Matter
With implicit or muscle memory your brain doesn’t realize that whatever it is you are repeating was originally learned in the past.
When you are driving a car your brain focuses on what is happening right now and doesn’t think about what the past was like or how you got to this moment in time. If simply plays out what you have repeated as if it were automatic.
But make no mistake…you had to learn to do what you are doing at some point in the past.
Now here is where it gets interesting…
When you’re first born the implicit memory system is the only memory that is active.
As a new born baby, you have millions-and-millions of neurotransmitters firing to “absorb” and “make sense” of all the information in your environment in an attempt to “guarantee” your survival.
The transmitters, along with other brain functions, during these first years are constantly making meaning out of all your experiences and laying down the tracks in the implicit memory system.
It’s like a recording device that records what is working or not working – to guarantee your survival. (Hint: even if later in life the patterns you adopted are no longer working e.g. shutting down or picking a fight)
Differentiating Yourself From Others
The other important piece of information in this discovery is that between ages 0-7 your brain is developing and learning how to differentiate from the primary caretaker or others and to self identify. (Technically it’s called differentiation-identification, a process or stages of development that happens over time. Here is an article that goes into more research about it.)
This is important to know because children will often tend to “take-on” difficult emotional aspects of what they perceive in the parent in an attempt to “relieve” them of the burden – without realizing it.
Why does this matter? …because some of your unconscious patterns may be related to this and are influencing you outside of your conscious awareness.
Another Element: Mirror Neurons
You also have these neurotransmitters in your brain called mirror neurons.
These neurons are there to help you “feel” into others or empathize with others emotions. And their automatically activated (hint: you don’t have a choice).
When you look at someone they are activated to help you connect.
What this means is, if your primary caretaker was preoccupied emotionally, (health issues, partner issues, other children to tend to, fear for lack of parenting skills, etc) you are picking up on those emotions and internalizing them.
Keep in mind, during your first 5 years, you do not yet have the ability to not “take on” those emotions.
When the emotions are good emotions you are lucky, but when they are negative you feel bad.
Either way, if the pattern gets repeated enough times you will assign a meaning and draw conclusions (think beliefs and values) that will follow you into adulthood. Again, because of where your brain is at in its development you don’t have a choice in the matter.
Once again, keep in mind that whatever get’s repeated, over-and-over again, become automatic later in life. (This is the implicit system at work)
“I Feel Bad, I Must Be “Bad””
Now let’s consider what babies-children do when they feel bad? They not only initially cry and attempt to reach out for help to feel better (which exasperates the issue to the caretaker) but they also draw conclusions about the experience they are having.
Over time, the “meaning” and “conclusions” derived from the experiences become internalized in the implicit system.
The key point to remember here is these internalized beliefs get played out later in life.
How It Plays Out Later In Life
Now let’s fast forward 25 years. You’re in a partnership and your having communication issues.
The root of those issues can be traced back to your first seven years of life.
You see, the reason we are attracted to people (this is not always 100% true) is because their “energy” seems familiar to us.
We have an uncanny “radar” to attract and reconnect with people very similar to our parents or aspects of them because of our implicit memory system. This is important to remember if you have unresolved early life traumatizing experiences.
Let me explain this last comment. One of the hallmarks of trauma is recapitulation.
This means we will unconsciously “collude” or “conspire” with people and things and opportunities to recreate traumatic situations in an attempt to find resolution.
Most of the time people don’t see this happening or even believe it because they have not been trained to know what to look for.
We could go on for hours talking about this one subject but it’s been heavily researched for over 100 years now and it’s pretty well documented. (See what Oprah has to say about early developmental trauma).
Let’s assume it true. We unconsciously seek out to re-create scenarios we experienced when we were little. Good or bad.
There is a propensity to magnify the “bad” situations because the safety system is still “remembering” the glitch when you were little.
If you were to imagine a group of people in front of you. And you are there to help them, and you want to take the most difficult and urgent cases first. You ask the group to tell you what is wrong then decide who goes first second and so on.
Your internal safety system is doing the same thing with all of your past traumatic events that are emotionally unresolved (or not integrated). It has them lined up and ready to respond to them as soon and “life” calls on them.
That means each moment is an opportunity to change your beliefs or unconscious programming.
Simply use “life” as your feedback loop.
Track Your Emotions When Triggered
The question then becomes how will I know which moment to pay most attention to? The answer is simple: Notice how you are feeling and the results you are getting.
If you feel relaxed and excited your probably headed in the right direction. If you feel anxious and hesitant you might want to explore what might be going on.
When it comes to relationships I will often ask myself, "do I feel closer or more distant from the person?" If I feel more distant then I know I'm "incomplete" with them and reflect on what I need to do to get back into integrity with them.
If the relationship is important enough, I will then take action to correct it.
Vision Statements To The Rescue
The best solution I have found to uncover unconscious patterns is to write a vision statement for what success looks like. In the How To Stop Fighting And Arguing Program I teach a very refined approach to this.
Over the past twenty years I’ve written over thirty vision statements for issue that seem to rear their ugly head from time to time. When I first write them I modify them a lot until I have the details mapped out on how I want my future responses to be.
The vision statement is like a guide or a touchstone. It helps you to navigate when your emotions are nudging you in the wrong direction. When fear wants to run the show. It helps you to see the “devil in the details.”
For example, if I noticed I’m triggered from something my parter did or said I need to know how to test out my inferences and assumptions before I jump to automatic conclusions (The stuff I inherited from my early life experience).
In my vision statement, I will write something like: “I notice when my belly gets tight and it becomes a signal for me to pause and ask questions to my partner on what I’m assuming.”
The ultimate goal is to challenge and “dis-confirm” the old "meaning" that cause you to respond in a way that exasperates the issue. Your new goal is to take in “new” information and process it through a more mature mind that is capable of seeing and redefining the details of what the current experience means to you.
As you know, when you get triggered it’s like trying to stop a freight train. So the first skill to practice is interrupting your knee jerk reaction.
I like to do this by picking a hand to represent the feelings in my body as I experience the trigger. Then the other hand represents the feelings of being in control. That is, being open and reflective of what might be going on in any given moment.
Remember, the young child part of you was not capable of regulating those emotions when you were young and your brain did what it thought was the right thing. But as an adult you now have more choices and can investigate more thoroughly.
What I will do next is to feel the feelings and sensations of the “trigger.”
Then I will practice feeling what it feels like to be in control and open. I go back and forth between hands (right hand trigger and left hand the way I want to respond in the future) until I have a clear distinction between the two states of mind and what they feel like.
What you are doing is training your nervous system to create more options in the moment when you get triggered. So the old memory is not running the show any more.
By identifying the sensations and feelings of the trigger and an alternative option, you are building self awareness.
Eventually, a trigger will happen and you’ll immediately go to a different option which is to ask questions and to investigate your inferences and assumptions.
Whew! that’s a lot and I hope it is making sense to you...
Here is what we have so far:
1. Your early life experiences get played out later in life because of your memory system and your inability to reflect more accurately on the meaning that you assigned to your early life experiences (And by the way the meaning may be accurate. My goal here is to help you make the meaning you assigned early in life more conscious so you can challenge it if needed or make a more conscious choice.)
2. Each time you get “triggered” you have an opportunity to interrupt your knee jerk reaction and further investigate your assumptions and inferences
3. You now have a couple of exercises to practice to bring more awareness to your responses in life.
To Be Continued…(post questions , confusions, and comments below)