Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. -- Ephesians 4:32
Ask yourself- are you more of an inflamer or a shutting downer? An inflamer is one who tends to get agitated when upset, raise one’s voice, gets anxious, gets aggressive, talks faster, etc. For example- the inflamer externalizes his or her upset or anxiety and may put others on the defensive. A shutting downer is someone who tends to withdraw, gets quiet, numbs oneself with TV or computer, stonewalls and/or avoids. He or she internalizes the stress or finds a way not to feel it. (“I feel fine!” is a common sentence of a shutting downer who does not reveal a whole lot about his or her inner life).
So, how do you overcome these natural, but highly dysfunctional behavior styles? I’m glad you asked!!
If you are an inflamer, see what you can do anything to practice self-soothing activities such as deep breathing, meditation, self-soothing internal dialogue, muscle relaxation exercises and physical activity. Learn to just let small things go. Some of you remember about the three questions: Can you see it from an airplane? Will you remember the issue 20 years from now? Is this really the principled hill upon which you wish to dig a foxhole and die? As Pia Mellody often says, learn to close your mouth and breathe. Learn to just let some things that don’t matter in the long...go!
If you are a shutting downer, see what you can do to connect with yourself and your partner. Locate your inner feelings, look deeply into your partner’s eyes (to see if feelings emerge), express feelings of all kinds (both pleasant and unpleasant), seek a support group and practice imagining your heart area opening up. Remember that most conversations that produce high emotions are not all about current events, and are more about you than about your partner. The shutting downer will do everyone well by learning how to express more and the inflamer will do everyone well by learning how to regulate emotions more effectively.
Sometimes a good therapist or coach can help both kinds of people reach these goals. Remember the stylized ways we taught you to talk together? Perhaps you need a tune-up.
Concentrate on having a Servant’s Heart toward your spouse. It truly is the only way.
I have seen many couples change their lives for the better when they did what they could to overturn these automatic responses that end up keeping couples stuck. I wish you success with this.