Sarah May Bates
October 11, 2015 7:31 am

If you prefer to listen here’s the podcast version of this post on iTunes and Soundcloud.

This one’s for Matt. Hope you enjoy!

How to stop trivial couple arguments that involve endless semantics debates – the ones usually started by faulty communication that are pointless and seem to last forever. This is a follow-up episode to last week’s episode which was about better loving – it’s all about a modern condition many couples are suffering in greater and greater numbers: the stupid arguments we get into with our awesome significant others – over stupid little things like corrections and blame.

The couples’ court battle of technicalities. What does that mean? Endless arguments with your significant other argued with technicalities – who said what, who’s right, who’s wrong – what I meant when I said that thing, no YOU said that which is what made me say that. You always do this! Can we not? Please? Can we stop this stupid fight? You’re the reason this started! I’M the one who’s trying not to fight— etc. We’ve all been there, and we all don’t want to go there – ever! Because it’s a massive time and energy suck and it usually results in nothing positive or helpful. It’s just a way to ruin a nice night or make us ready to fight for the rest of a Saturday. So why does this happen to modern couples and how do we get out of it? That’s what this episode is all about.

As in all of my blogs, there are three parts – the what, the why and the how – the tools. And I’ll put my references in the blog version of this post. Yay!

Part 1: The What

Culturally, we have a tendency to want resolution. We think that talking things out and feeling things is the truest path to happiness. And in a lot of situations, that’s totally true – but in this particular breed of conflict, it’s a ruse. There is no real heart behind the exchange: it’s a battle fought solely in the brain – and the brain activates the corresponding emotional baggage as a result. Which leads to escalation! And time sucked from your perfect life – hours and days that should be spent happy are stolen by lengthy pointless debates. You end up going in the same loop – like you both got caught in a maze and keep going through the same long route over and over again – never getting out. And isn’t it the worst? Don’t you hate it when this happens to you? It usually conjures feelings of hopelessness and frustration – because you just cant seem to figure out the door out – and you hate coming back to this place again and again.

I’ve been noticing this battle is something that’s happening to lots of couples lately. It’s popping up a lot in pop culture – like films, in our friends – and it’s something new, that our grandparents don’t get stuck in. There are tons of other emotional problems older generations get stuck in – but our generation has a new breed of fight.

They happen over and over again almost on a loop and they’re always about something small that gets misunderstood, or it’s something that gets under our skin – and we call it out in a way that we believe will lead to simple resolution. But then a lengthy debate ensues – one that involves semantics, correctness, and a bunch of clarifying the truth as we see it. These types of lengthy debates always start with a negative emotional reaction – one that conflicts with what the other half of the couple believes is warranted. Think of it like the court of “You Hurt My Feelings” – we are looking for a final judgment of who has to pay the guilty sentence to the other. We are also looking to relieve ourselves of unjust guilty sentencing.  So a person that feels hurt by something or a person that has hurt someone or been misunderstood, and therefore is trying to right the record. The discussion usually has one or a combination of these ingredients:

  • A request for clarifying something that hurt
  • OR a reaction to a communication that was felt as negative or unloving. felt or how we were wounded
  • An explanation for why that was not founded, because the real motivation was a positive one
  • A misunderstood comment that requires clarification for meaning – which leads to another emotional reaction to the request itself – the discussion now escalates
  • An explanation of the many times this way of acting was a good thing or should be perceived as good, now.
  • A calling out of how the conversation is obnoxious, escalating, or how one person doesn’t want to fight
  • One person feeling they have not been heard
  • A person explaining that this is a repeated discussion – followed by hopelessness at how they are now trapped in this discussion.
  • One person wishing there was a button that could undo this discussion altogether – because now they are distant and they wanted to be closer to their loved one.

Part 2: The Why

Well, it’s pretty new – it’s affecting this generation. It all stems from the over dominance of the egoic mind. What’s that? It’s your thinking brain. And this thinking brain remains on for much longer because of the way we conduct our lives – today, and how our attention lives very much outside of our body for a large majority of our waking life. We live in time that is never in one single place – with social media we have a constant connection to others via the internet. Our focus and presence is split and never fully here, now – we are asked to be many places and so we end up being in a permanent state of distraction. A part of our attention is stuck in our brain computing, recalling, remembering, anticipating, updating, sharing, checking — never fully possessed in the present moment – and with that, a big disconnection occurs. A disconnection between presence and immediacy – and us: we lose the grounding in ourselves when we lose the ability to be quiet in our minds. The ego then takes on a whole lot more power and control – and we live in a half-version of ourselves that is always out of balance. Chattering. Noise. Thoughts. Narrative. Nonstop analysis.

I’ll give you some context to understand how this is different than you, the whole person. Your egoic mind is like the calculator organ in you. It’s the part of your body that computes and labels – and it’s the part of you that should turn off around 8 pm and stay off until about 8 am – in times you are in rest and relax mode. When your body regenerates and your blood and heart slows down to get you ready for sleep. This mind is NOT reflective or the voice of your highest self. This is the mind that chatters, actively and can drive YOU – the real you, totally crazy. I’ll call this dominant egoic mindset – the lawyer.

Just like a lawyer proving a case, the ego relies on comparative definitions so by nature it wants to strengthen itself. It craves anything that will reaffirm its own logic – hence our burning desire to be right. Your inner lawyer takes over because it’s a system designed to protect you from pain: the pain of feeling lower or worthless or undeserving of what we have. We all know that feeling – the “I’m a fraud, I shouldn’t have what I have – everyone is better than me” – the flip side of that is “I am amazing and sooo good and sooo right!” so when you’re possessed by an overthinking brain, you will teeter between the two.

Usually this state is set to “on” throughout the day when we need it to work – and it shuts down at the end of the day when our cortisol levels naturally drop – so right around 6:30 or 7 pm, depending on your diet and sleep schedule. That’s why you might notice that if you have a sore throat, it goes away during the day and comes back right around 7 pm at night: cortisol aka fight or flight gives you increased ability to function.

So if your mind is overactive – it never stops. It happens when you stay mentally stimulated all day and through the night. So if you are not sleeping all the way through the night – or your brain is super noisy when you wake up first thing – this is a sign that you have an overactive mind and with that, likely a stress response. Your brain will naturally get more chattery in times of high stress.

Part of what contributes to this overactive mind is keeping ourselves connected to things that shoot blue light. Blue light is what stops production of melatonin in the body – which is the sleep hormone. You are telling your eyes that it’s daytime outside. And things like iPads and smart phones shoot blue light into your eye balls, which keeps your brain on – so if you’re on the phone, computer or iPad right before bed, your body clock is off, keeping you active.

A brief intermission to talk about what sleep does.

Sleep is like a shower for your brain. It sends fluid through your brain to rid you of the toxic proteins that lead to things like Alzheimer’s. You get clear in the head when you get a good nights rest because the waste is being cleansed while you sleep. It’s also when you wash out the non-relevant stuff: with sleep, the background noise dies down. The unimportant busy stuff. You sift through what’s important and make those connections stronger and the non-important stuff falls away. You get a much lower tolerance to seeing what is unimportant – you are weakened and therefore small in what becomes a big deal. When we’re sleepy, we have a cognitive disorder of focus, attention and concentration. All together – sleep is vital to being the real, empowered, kind and non-ego-driven you.

The stress response mode is a survival mechanism – I’ve talked about it before but it’s when your brain feels a threat and your body sends all the blood to your extremities so you can be extra on – it’s an adrenaline rush. Your brain is the protector –so by nature its mission is to help you avoid pain, including the pain of guilt.

The other mindset that takes over in these debates – I will call the child. If you had a lack of love and attention in childhood, (parents that were incapable, depressed, or made you feel invisible) you often develop this belief – because it stems from rationalizing you must be misunderstood – otherwise this person would give you love. And so you continue to explain who you are – thinking that person will eventually say, “oh! I see now, I’m sorry – I love you!” For the child, the parent is depressed – so they cannot give you the love you crave, so you believe it is because they just didn’t know you needed love – it cannot be something so dangerous to your survival like a parent who is incapable… So the instinct is to continually try to explain yourself again and again. It doesn’t make sense that the partner isn’t apologizing. They must not have understood you were hurt. This is also to control how the other person feels – you need them to understand you and see you and not be mad or upset.

So with these two languages: one person is the operating from old emotional baggage –the child – the other person is operating from the ego –the lawyer, or perhaps both people are operating as lawyers or children. Both people are stuck in this egoic thinking/solving process and they are battling calculator to calculator. Their true high selves are like prisoner witnesses – the heart is not participating, it’s a definitions clarity match. Both come from being too identified by thoughts. And both keep them separated from what will actually make them happy. They cannot see the path – they cannot see a way out. And things usually get worse. Just like politics or religion- throwing views that the other doesn’t agree are valid, gets them nowhere but back to where the court debate started – so it’s really about winning based on past cases that provide precedent and eye-witness reports of details. And all the while the argument is escalating your emotional triggers. Your brain sends all the chemicals to validate your position, while old emotional broken records are set off all over the place.

MOST IMPORTANTLY: It’s never about the fight, it’s about how it’s conducted. Like a bad pattern that runs a looped set of computer files. So how to know the difference? If you are not making progress and you have been here before – this is a big fat red flag that you are stuck in an egoic battle of technicalities. It’s not about – what it’s about. It’s two computers trying to out-solve one another while they push tons of triggers and sour things like intimacy. So if you get here – and recognize it – get out of there, stat! Don’t engage – don’t follow the lawyer into that maze! Which brings me to… the tools.

Part 3: The Tools

1. Charge the Calculator!

Step one for everyone is keep that brain thing in check! Clean it, keep it well oiled. Make sure it’s not running your body at odd hours of night. When you’re in the most empowered, rational state — you are in your body – not trapped in your mind. Battles happen more when couples get trapped inside their thinking brain and they forget they are separate from it. Here – let’s do a test. Stop reading and see if your brain is quiet for 10 seconds. Try to allow your mind to be empty.

Did it work? If your brain starts up again with chatter, sit back and watch it. That witness is you. The one watching your thoughts run back and forth across the stage that is your brain.

When your mind is not in the overactive state, you will be aware of it when you do not align with the thoughts that are spewing from your brain. You will also have more power to dismiss the calculator and avoid unnecessary court battles. You will also both get into way less fights in the first place because you will be connecting via senses and you will see one another more clearly – you will actually read each other’s needs. You can love and be together in complete harmony without saying a single word.

So ways to better this mind/body balance include things that allow you to control your brain with your physical body – like meditation, yoga, breathing exercises – practices that train your focus with a physical process. This strengthens your ability to get your mind to be quiet, removing control from your thinking egoic brain and giving it back to you, the whole person. Another important element is getting enough sleep – so the noise and chatter is flushed out by the time you wake up. REM is super important for resetting your brain.

2. Switch Cases

This is a GREAT TOOL for when you are stuck– when you hit that point of hopelessness, and thinking, “We tried so hard yet nothing worked…I don’t understand how to reach this person…” Or maybe the opposite – you’re at a loss as to how they could be doing what they’re doing, “They are so, so wrong! There’s nothing I can do in the face of this insanely stupid blindness!” In that moment, try switching cases. You are both lawyers arguing opposite viewpoints – simply trade arguments – take on their view point and assume they’re right.

This is not about letting it go, growing into the bigger person and swallowing the injustice – this is not about saying you are wrong. It’s a way to welcome in extra information that might help YOU not feel trapped and hopeless. This is a method to break into a wall or see a new path out.  Put yourself in their position and see the logic they are using – ask yourself where that logic is coming from. Your brain will be resistant to it and fight you, but trust me – this is an incredibly helpful tool in soothing your anger – it returns you to a compassionate and calm empowered mindset – it makes you more rational, and most importantly – it gives your highest self back – your power. It’s empowering!

 3. The Mind Gets No Mouth

When you are in a court battle of technicalities, there will be a moment of recognition – when you see where this is headed and what is happening. I want you to begin to separate your mind and your mouth. Your mouth can operate separate from your mind and this is a good thing when it comes to this subject matter. You will KNOW what is best for you despite the fact that your thoughts are in lawyer mode – running back and forth at full speed in your brain. So what I like to do is step away – head to the bathroom – stare in the mirror and remind myself that my thoughts are not allowed access to my mouth. They cannot speak for me – I revoke access to the weakest process in me and hand the keys over to my highest self who KNOWS what I want – which is none of this. And what you’ll see is you start to be able to play a new record. This one is not broken – it’s positive – it’s one you grow and gets stronger, the more you use it – you’ll be able to say “I know I don’t want this and I don’t mean this” – and suddenly the chemicals pushing your ego to feel righteous and hurt – they begin to fade. You feel them subsiding and more and more quickly – this will happen. To the point that when I do this process now, I can come right back out within a minute or two. Which used to be 15 minutes around the block.

 4. The Mouth Goes to the Prisoner

This is a part 2 of the last tool – it’s another way to think about the process. When you’re in the moments of egoic take-over – and you disempowered, there is a rational part of you – your highest self – who is almost trapped witnessing the broken record play out – like you’re helpless. This is a mantra to use when you talk to yourself – meaning, when your highest self is trying to take the wheel – it’s a great visualization for getting the “let’s win this fight! Come on – you’re right, they’re wrong – clarity in necessary!” Say aloud what you really want.

Speak to yourself directly from what you know is right as a way to empower yourself to choose your higher self. You give power to your highest self by actualizing it via your voice. So I might say to myself, “Come on Sarah – let it go. Put it away til tomorrow.”

 5. Resolve Meaningful Issues Outside of Court

If you’re thinking – but how do we reach resolution? I need to be heard, I want to stop being misunderstood in this way. This is a very practical tool but treat it like a reminder – that if you have real issues that need to be resolved, figure out a new path to address them that is not discussion in this form. So if that’s a couples counselor – or email – or something totally different? Maybe a hand written note that keeps things light and airy? I find that humor is a huge tool – casual and removed humor combined with email might be your ticket for passing along vital information like, “Please don’t call me that name – it brings up bad feelings from my childhood.” Or whatever.

 6. Beware The Chattery Lawyer Voice

Don’t open the door if it’s the chattery lawyer coming to trap you. This is an obnoxious lawyer reading notes from a testimony. When you can see that is coming out of your partner’s mouth – stand down. Don’t take the bait. You don’t want to join this court battle – as they are occupied more by the egoic mind!

7. The Stoner

If you’re thinking, “But THEY are the one who’s making this into a fight – NOT ME… I try to step peacefully away.” Then your power lies in HOW you participate. You don’t have to incriminate yourself to get out of a battle. You can step out of it in a way that doesn’t fulfill the other half necessary. Just like a The Dude with a smile – your job is to be a calm, peaceful presence who doesn’t want to fight. So instead of fulfilling the other half of the court battle – respond with a lack of engagement with the bait being offered. Even when you feel hurt and accused, you absolutely have control over your reaction and what you contribute to this fight. This is your greatest power: how you react.

So if a person is accusing you of something and they are wrong – the instinct is to explain back your side. To be “seen” and “heard” and not be wrong. But that’s boring man. Not into that man. I like to think of it like you’re a mute and loving presence who doesn’t ignore, but simply does not engage.

Try to change the subject with something positive – and make it into a surprise that changes the energy of the conversation. Think of it like you’re trying to jolt an unconscious loop – tip a record off its groove. So anything that ZAGS the expected response is what you’re aiming for.

This is a hard one if people corner you and get in your face – it will take some strong conviction in yourself to not take the bait. So just think stoner. Nothing around you can affect you. You are still present, you are not completely shutting off.

As an aside: If you are shutting off and not saying anything – please know that this too, is a fighting tool – and a not nice one. Despite how you perceive it to be, it’s an unfair tactic that actually enrages people more – so don’t use it if you are looking to make peace and get to more important things, like love.

Like a stoner with a smile – just be there, kindly. Don’t get swept up. Use physical actions to communicate – keep them all positive, loving, slow and passive. When you notice that you are in this space – or your spouse walked through the door and is speaking as a lawyer, resume a state of purely physical communication. Act out love – be a positive and calm presence, and do not engage.

In closing…

I’m writing this because it’s something I want to plant in your mind more than anything. The most important part of this is simple awareness. Because once you are aware, you will be able to separate from this process if it happens to you. The sooner you can back out the better – because fewer old emotional patterns will be triggered. Keep this in the back of your mind and you will begin see that this is not you – it’s not what you want, and you don’t have to participate in it. Or at the very least it will inspire you to begin your own personal search for a way out. And yes – it’s really hard! Because it’s all tangled up with things like confidence and our feelings about our own self-worth. So this is really about growing bigger and more confident by not engaging your own weak fears and taking hits to your ego. But it’s worth it because then as a habit as a couple, you can start to collectively avoid these little lame computer lawyer battles. You can spot them and head the other way.

Our goal as a couple is to support one another and challenge one another – we are there to help one another grow. And we choose a mate based on our potential for growth. It is also how we choose our coworkers. What can this person create in me? What can I create in them? What can we create in one another? Bringing out the best in others is the most rewarding part of being a human. It’s what makes us feel great about ourselves – not winning or showing the other person we’re right. The goal is not to be right – that keeps the disconnect alive. You want to eradicate all the stupid unnecessary crap that keeps you both happy and loving. It’s a process, and it takes constant attention – but if you build the right tools, avoid the danger zones – and reach an agreement between the two of you that you don’t want to waste time here – resetting to peace gets a whole lot faster and with that – you both get happier. How awesome is it to work on something together and see it work! It’s wonderful.

So with that I send you my love – and if you know someone who needs this – like a couple who fights constantly, there’s a good chance they aren’t even aware of it – so share it! Smile lovelies!

Featured image via Universal Pictures

References:

RadioLab, Sleep

Science Mag

NPR – Alzheimer’s

NPR

Jeff Iliff TedTalk

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