Have you noticed that, in American culture, slurs about gender, class, race and sex have become fairly commonplace and are often even seen as humorous by some? Howard Stern, Ann Coulter, and Bill O'Reilly, to name a few well known pundits, have been busy playing the "Can You Top This?" game. And pop culture icon Sasha Baron Cohen, thanks to his edgy jokes in the movie Borat, won Hollywood's coveted Golden Globe award. Shock jock Don Imus crossed the line when he called the women of the Rutgers basketball team "nappy headed hos." His remark stirred up all sorts of feelings – of outrage, vulnerability, anger – not easily put to rest.
What happens in the media is not that different from what transpires between couples when emotionally charged discussions get completely out of hand. Stephanie had seen the results of untamed aggression in her own life and slowly learned how to prevent it. Growing up, her parents were always angry with each other. She hoped that they would divorce but they stayed together and just kept on fighting. She vowed that her life would be different:
"I couldn't wait to move out. Over the years I broke off so many relationships that could have worked, but I was afraid of ending up just like my parents," she said. "At 42, after years of therapy, I finally felt secure and strong enough to take the plunge. Now, almost every day since I got married, I wake up and make a conscious decision to focus on the positives in my relationship. And if I have to fight, I fight fair."
Whether it is gender baiting, childish competition, or locker-room humor, the hurt feelings cut deep both ways. And have lasting effects. What follows are a set of six tools that can help your conversations – and your relationship – get back on the right track.
1.) All couples get angry and have arguments. During these difficult times, you can minimize emotional overload if you focus only on the specific subject at hand. Don't blame your partner or get defensive. Take some personal responsibility for what's going on and be willing to negotiate a compromise.
2.) Emotional flooding, a diffuse physiological arousal whereby several body systems are mobilized, often occurs in a crisis. This process is activated in a relationship when tensions are high and communication stalls. It becomes difficult to listen, to think clearly, or to resolve disagreements. Developing skills to soothe yourself and calm your partner can help minimize the buildup of negative feelings and resentments.
3.) In the midst of a heated argument, any one of these phrases would be welcomed by a partner who is feeling misunderstood: I might be wrong; stay with me and don’t withdraw; I see my part in all of this; let’s find our common ground; I do love you and we'll work this out.