Tarun Kanti Gayen, our clinical psychologist, will answer reader's questions about relationship crisis and mental health. Submit yours at [email protected]
Q: After nearly a decade of marriage, I am no stranger to arguments with my wife. Our arguments have a circular, never-ending nature. We both hold very demanding and high-stress jobs. The aftermath of these never ending fights can drag on for weeks and it ends up affecting our daily lives.
The crux of the matter is, we both love each other and we know it. But when these fights happen, we just cannot help but hurt each other with vicious words and accusations. Is there any way that we can rid our lives of these arguments?
A: While arguments are a natural part of any relationship, there is a line between healthy arguments and unhealthy arguments. When you feel your arguments toeing the line, that's when you need to deescalate the situation.
Invoking two words, "same team" can be a quick way to do this. In moments when you are blinded by anger and indignation, remind your spouse (gently) that you are on the same team.
This is also a way to pause the argument for 10 or 15 seconds, by which time your heart rate will decrease and you both can calm down – realising that hurting each other is futile.
Practicing the phrase "same team" will eventually create an automatic response in both of you to calm down and think again.
Q: My long-term partner and I have a rather steady relationship. We rarely ever argue about anything. However, when we do argue it goes bad. He brings up old grudges quickly and I resort to lashing out with my own grievances. For an almost nonsensical matter, he ends up insulting me deeply.
I have tried to stop the arguments but nothing helps. Even if I go quiet, he thinks I am ignoring him and the matter at hand. That enrages him even more. Is there any solution?
A: Since you mentioned that your relationship with him is long-term, it is possible that your significant other knows you well. Which is why he knows and uses triggers that hurt you. So when the argument gets nasty, respond with a word like 'ouch'. Show him that his words hurt you, let yourself be vulnerable. This will prompt him to mellow out, withdraw, and apologise.
Tarun Kanti Gayen is an adjunct faculty of the Department of Clinical Psychology, University of Dhaka. He is also the acting General Secretary of Bangladesh Clinical Psychology Society (BCPS).