The Most Unnatural Way to Fight With Your Partner

This guest post is by Dan Lippmann of danlippmann.com.

Does every squabble with your partner turn into a full fledged shouting match? Does your desire to vigorously defend yourself come second only to proving how wrong your partner is?

Her: “I thought you said you were going to take out the garbage.”
Him: “I am going to take it out. Just not now.”
Her: “But you’ll forget if you don’t do it right now.”
Him: “Stop bossing me around. I’ll do it when I’m good and ready.”
Her: “Which means never. And, then I’ll have to take it out in the morning. I’m so sick of cleaning up all the messes you leave behind.”
Him: “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Her: “You know exactly what it means. Maybe I’m just sick of you!”

Sound familiar?

So what do you do when all reason goes out the window, insults are flying, and you’ve backed each other into a corner?

Actually, there are several things you can do to restore the peace, but they all hinge on your willingness to do something “unnatural.”

I’m a counselor who spends a lot of time teaching couples how to communicate more effectively. The comment I hear most often when I introduce these strategies is, “This isn’t natural!” I tell couples, “You’re right. It’s not natural. But it’s worth practicing until it comes naturally.”

Would you rather be happy or right?

Partners?

Partners? Image used with permission

My client Joe described his wife as “hot-tempered and critical.” Whenever she accused him of something, he would vigorously defend himself and tell her she was completely wrong. She would then insist that she was right, and their fights would escalate into three-hour screaming matches that would jump from one subject to another.

I asked Joe what he thought would happen if, rather than defending himself and insisting she was wrong, he found a bit of truth in what she was saying and admitted some responsibility.

He said, “I could never do that! It’s not what a man does! Besides, I like being right.”

So I asked him, “Would you rather be right or happy?”

He decided to give the techniques a try, and we rehearsed some ways to respond to his wife’s accusations.

At the next session, Joe reported that a miracle had happened! His wife had accused him of never complimenting her, and instead of defending himself, he replied, “You’re right. I don’t compliment you enough. I’m going to do that more.” His wife was caught completely off guard and mumbled, “That’s great.” Joe marveled, “That was the end of the discussion. Normally we would have had a three-hour fight.”

The more Joe practiced not always having to be right, the more the relationship improved. Today he and his wife feel closer than ever.

How to prevent disagreements from escalating

The strategies below are likely to feel awkward and unnatural at first. It’s not easy to let go of defensive, knee-jerk responses. But if you persist, I guarantee you’ll have a happier, more loving relationship.

  1. When your partner accuses you, look for some grain of truth in what they are saying – even if it’s miniscule. For example, “You’re right I do forget to take out the garbage sometimes.”
  2. If you can’t find any truth at all in what the other person is saying, just say, “You might have a point there. Let me think about that.”
  3. Even if you completely disagree with the other person’s accusations, you might still want to admit it just to preserve harmony. (This takes a lot of motivation and self-control!) You can always explore the issue at a later time when your partner is calmer.

If you want your partner to appreciate and love you more, then try being right less often!

I’d love to hear what happens when you try out these unnatural strategies. How did you partner react the first time they heard one of these new responses? Please let me know!

Dan Lippmann counsels clients from his two Chicago-area offices and is the creator of the Mood Switch Method, an easy to learn technique that breaks the painful cycle of negative emotions, such as anxiety, down moods and anger. Download his free eBook, Beyond EFT: 7 Steps to Banish Stress, Worry, Fear and Anxiety, and sign up for his weekly tips at www.danlippmann.com.

The Bright Side of Coping with Depression

This guest post is by Dan Lippmann of the Mood Switch Method.

If you could take a pill that would prevent you from ever feeling sad or depressed, would you take it?

A July 2011 Prevention Magazine article entitled, “The Surprising Silver Lining of Sadness” reports that antidepressants are the most commonly prescribed drug in America for adults under the age of 60, and that about 10% of the population is taking them at any given moment.

The bright side

image used with permission

While medication can be helpful for those with severe depression, clearly many people with milder forms of depression don’t want to experience sadness and loss, either. They just want these painful feelings to go away.

Since I spend my days teaching people how to switch their negative moods to more positive ones, people sometimes assume that my goal is for people to be happy all the time. Nothing could be further from the truth!

I’m certainly not happy all the time, nor would I want to be. Sometimes sad or down feelings are normal and even necessary. If a dear friend moves away, then it’s entirely healthy to feel sad. Or if you don’t get a job you really want, then it’s natural to feel down.

As painful as these feelings are, there are good reasons not to numb them with drugs. According to the Prevention Magazine article, coping with depression without drugs can make you emotionally healthier, improve your brain functioning, and increase your resilience.

My client Mary is a good example of how dealing with depression can have a positive outcome. After she was fired from her sales job, she became very depressed, barely leaving her house and withdrawing from friends and family.

She was so depressed that she went on medication for awhile. But the medication numbed all her emotions – the sad ones and the happy ones. She eventually decided to go off the medication, saying she’d rather feel “normal than numb.”

Depression stops you in your tracks, shuts you down, and leads you to withdraw from your regular life. While withdrawal is often perceived as a negative, there is a benefit. It gives you the time and space to focus on what’s troubling you.

During this time, Mary thought endlessly about her career. She criticized her performance, wondered what she could have done differently, and worried about ever finding another job. Although such rumination is often viewed as unhealthy and unhelpful, studies show that it often stimulates analytic reasoning and contributes to problem solving and new insights.

In Mary’s case, hours of rumination produced an amazing insight: She’d spent 20 years of her life selling products she didn’t care anything about.

Mary’s new awareness motivated her to look for more meaningful work. She eventually found a job selling equipment for children with special needs. Since Mary’s daughter had special needs, she now experienced her work as important and worthwhile.

She also acknowledged that she felt stronger for having faced her depression head on. As painful and scary as her experience was, she had learned skills for dealing with negative thoughts and handling life’s challenges.

Sometimes sadness and depression are necessary for growth. Sometimes they can change your life dramatically for the better.

Please share your experiences about dealing with depression without drugs. What insights did you gain?

Dan Lippmann, LCSW, is the director of Counseling and Wellness Innovations, with two offices near Chicago, Illinois. He is also the creator of the Mood Switch Method, an easy to learn technique that breaks the painful cycle of negative emotions such as anxiety, down moods and anger. You can download his free eBook, Beyond EFT: 7 Steps to Banish Stress, Worry, Fear and Anxiety, and sign up for blog at www.danlippmann.com.

How to Break the Downward Spiral of Negative Thinking

This guest post is by Dan Lippmann of the Mood Switch Method.

Have you ever noticed how easy it is for your negative thinking to spiral out of control?

“I wonder if I’ll be able to meet that deadline.
If I don’t meet the deadline, my boss will go crazy.
He’ll give me a bad evaluation.
I’ll end up getting fired.
I won’t be able to pay my bills.
I’ll lose my home.
I’ll be out on the street with no money.
My life will be over.”

You start out by thinking one upsetting thought. In seconds, that thought leads to another, until you’ve produced a whole chain of negative thoughts. When combined together, these thoughts steal your sense of well-being, leaving anxiety and fear in their wake.

The most important thing for you to know is this: You don’t have to go along with whatever negative thoughts are triggering up in your brain. You can learn to direct your thinking in a way that will be helpful instead of harmful to you.

Breaking the chain of negative thinking

Picture your negative thoughts as a chain of associations. Your goal is to break the chain after the first link and then keep new links from being added.

This is easier than you might think and doesn’t require superhuman effort—only a little bit of awareness and practice.

You may be surprised to learn that your negative thoughts aren’t usually random. Often, there’s a specific underlying emotion (sadness, anger, jealousy) or theme (money, death, health) that triggers your negative thinking and serves to link your thoughts together. Once you’re aware of your personal patterns or themes, it’s easier to break the associations or links.

I realized this a few weeks ago when I heard on the radio that a TV personality from my childhood had died. I immediately felt mildly sad, and then I realized that my mind suddenly wanted to make other “death associations.” If I had allowed my thoughts free rein, they probably would have played out something like this:

“My mother’s dead.
My father’s dead.
I’m the same age as my father when he got sick.
I hope the same thing isn’t wrong with me.”

…and on and on!

If I had allowed this line of thinking to continue, I would have been in a down mood in a matter of minutes, and maybe spent the next few hours, or even days, feeling badly.

Fortunately, I recognized where my mind wanted to take me, and made a conscious choice to stop my thoughts in their tracks. I simply refocused my thoughts on something neutral – the tastes and smell of my breakfast – and then switched the radio to a music station that I like. I was able to stop the downward spiral before it began and to get on with my day.

So the next time you experience an upsetting feeling, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is there a benefit to thinking about this situation?
  2. Is there a benefit to following the chain of associations arising from this situation?

If the answer is no, turn your thoughts to something neutral, interesting, or uplifting. You might be surprised at how easy it is to avoid a downward spiral.

It might even save your day.

Dan Lippmann counsels clients from his two Chicago-area offices and is the creator of the Mood Switch Method, an easy to learn technique that breaks the painful cycle of negative emotions, such as anxiety, down moods and anger. Download his free eBook, Beyond EFT: 7 Steps to Banish Stress, Worry, Fear and Anxiety, and sign up for his weekly tips at www.danlippmann.com.