Fear and stress can lead to impatience and anger. And before you know it, you’re in a gut-wrenching argument with the person you love—right when you need each others’ support and companionship the most.
Then if these painful disconnects go unresolved, you can find yourselves drifting apart. In China, the divorce rate shot up when quarantines were relaxed, and we’re already hearing the same in this country.
But it’s not from spending too much time together in the current lockdown. It’s because we’re not good at maintaining true closeness when we’re frightened.
From decades of helping people have happier, more fulfilling relationships, we offer these three steps for alleviating fear and amplifying love—even in highly stressful times.
Step #1: De-escalate yourself—before you try to de-escalate the argument
It’s natural to want to de-escalate the friction between you right away. But we recommend focusing on de-escalating yourself first.
This is not just taking a few breaths or counting to ten, although that’s useful. It’s a deliberate shift in your self-talk that dissolves your distress enough that your caring heart and clear mind come back to the forefront.
It starts with noticing what’s going on inside you and then naming it for what it is.
For instance, as soon as you recognize that you’re upset, you might say to yourself: “Yikes. My stomach is in knots. I’m raising my voice. I’m reacting as if the person in front of me is an enemy, not my beloved. I obviously got triggered and might be over-reacting… Hmmm…”
When you do that, your neurobiological self starts calming your inner fear-fest and restoring your ability to think clearly and connect warmly—which puts you in the right place to approach your partner again
One way to know you’re ready to reconnect is that your desire to get back to love will be louder than your impulse to be defensive and right.
Step #2 — Restore the loving connection between you—before you get into a conversation
It’s so tempting to launch into discussing whatever went awry so you can fix it quickly. But don’t!
The pain of an argument comes from the disconnect between the two of you—not from the issue that triggered it.
Here’s our favorite way to restore our connection before we talk:
Whoever’s ready first (that was usually Paige early on) approaches the other gently and says: “I’m sorry for my part.” And then Don would say: “I’m sorry for my part, too.” And as you might imagine, the distance would melt, and within seconds we were in the full embrace of love again.
Of course, this only works when it’s 100% genuine, and it might take some practice to discover what works for the two of you. But when you do, the subsequent conversations will go much better.
Step #3 — Listen and speak to create deeper understanding—before discussing what to do next time
We got this step very wrong in our early years.
As soon as we were back in sync, we’d start talking about what to do differently—thinking that’s how we’d avoid reigniting the problem. Logical, yes. But it usually backfired. We’d start arguing again, or, if we agreed on a solution, it wouldn’t stick.
In time, we found that a real resolution only emerged from a full conversation. That meant having a compassionate, level-headed exchange where the goal of our listening and our speaking was to understand each other better.
This requires listening with a genuine curiosity about your partner’s experience of whatever went awry and why it was so upsetting. When practiced with patience, this kind of listening makes it safe for your beloved to speak openly and honestly.
Your speaking also wants to be compassionate. Meaning, while being honest about what upset you, you’re choosing language and tonality that are easy for your beloved to hear without getting triggered again. That means describing your feelings and perspective without blame.
During this mindful make-up conversation—especially in these ultra-stressful times—it’s easy to slip back into criticizing your partner, defending yourself, or shutting down again. If that’s what happens (which we know it can) just go back to Step #1. De-escalating yourself again, and then… You get the idea.
These three steps—de-escalating yourself first, then restoring your loving connection, followed by listening and speaking for deeper understanding—provide a framework for creating patterns of communication that yield an ever-deepening bond of love.
We know the quest can be messy, especially now. Still the potential for experiencing new dimensions of extraordinary love is well worth it.