How unhealed childhood wounds cause chronic fighting in relationships
In my previous blog, I spoke about the way heated communications trigger a biochemical imbalance in men (ANS arousal), which leads to various withdrawal behaviors that, in turn, trigger more fighting in relationships.
As I’ve said previously, aborting ANS arousal and withdrawal is the key to ending chronic fighting in relationships. The way to stop ANS arousal and withdrawal is by employing what I call Relationship Climate Control techniques. These techniques consist of various tactics that cool down your communications and the interpersonal climate.
Identifying and eliminating fight traps
In my initial post, I outlined my first Relationship Climate Control technique: identifying and eliminating Fight Traps (those faulty fighting tactics that heat the climate and lead to more fighting in relationships). As I explained, if you want to break the cycle of fighting, Fight Traps must be extinguished.
Identifying and healing your mutual old scars
In this blog, I discuss another vital Relationship Climate Control Technique, which consists of identifying and healing your mutual Old Scars. Olds Scars is a term that I have coined to refer to the wounds that we all carry from our formative years (or the “deformative” years as one of my patients said in jest!). Believe it or not, when chronic fighting is afoot, you can be sure that Old Scars are the culprit.
Old Scars create a phenomenon that I call the Emotional Lake Effect. To understand this metaphor, let’s consider the actual Lake Effect. Just as a storm gathers force as it passes over the Great Lakes, our minds dip into the well of the unconscious, comparing present day events with repressed or suppressed memories of past wounds and traumas. The current event acts as a trigger, which unwittingly sends the unconscious mind on a trip down memory lane. Next our minds make associations without our conscious awareness as we recall a multitude of similar injuries that we suffered as a child. In a flash, a jumble of feelings associated with these past hurts come tumbling out. This is what I call “feeling memories.” The feelings are “disembodied” from the actual memories of countless similar hurts in the past. The result is an eruption of emotional fireworks that are a disproportionately intense response to a minor event in the present.
Chronic fighting in relationships case study
For example, take a patient of mine whom I will call Susan. Her father never had time for her. Cut to twenty years later. She’s grown up, married and out to dinner with her husband. During dinner, her hubbie keeps checking his watch. Susan, without realizing it, associates his behavior with that of her father, who couldn’t be rid of her fast enough. In no time, she’s ballistic. “If you can’t wait to go home and get away from me, let’s end the date now,” she snapped.
Her husband was utterly flabbergasted! He was just checking his watch to make sure to feed the parking meter on time.
As you can see, Susan’s mind made an unconscious association between her father and her husband. In a flash, the wounded, rejected, neglected and hurt part of herself rose up, crying for attention and healing. Because she wasn’t aware of the actual source of her pain, she turned her cannons on her husband and the fight was on.
How can you tell if your own old scars are triggering your fights?
There are two clues:
1) You suddenly find yourself in the throes of an intense emotional reaction, a reaction that seems disproportionate to the current offense
2) You can’t seem to shake the reaction.
Since emotional intensity causes ANS arousal and withdrawal behaviors, it is clear that Old Scars must be identified and healed.
This is easier said than done!
Because very often the overt fight content acts as a smoke screen that actually conceals the real wound. As a result, it is easy for couples to get caught up in the overt content of an argument and miss the emotional boat entirely.
In my book, Kiss Your Fights Good-bye: Dr. Loves 10 Simple Steps to Cooling Conflict and Rekindling Your Relationship
I show how to use my “Stripping Away the Content of the Fight” technique to identify the wound that lurks beneath. For example, let’s say a wife is wounded over lack of foreplay. As people do, she transforms her hurt to anger and repeatedly blasts him for being a sexual cheapskate. Being attacked and blamed only gets his back up (and nothing else!). In his hurt and angry state, he wants to give her less rather than more, which will only add salt to her original wound. In no time a vicious cycle is born in which her anger triggers more and more withdrawal on his part.
In reality, the real issue that has her so hot under the collar-instead of sexually-is the fact that she felt emotionally starved of love when she was young. If she can access the original feelings of hurt and sadness, and communicate this, she will incite her husband’s feelings of tenderness towards her and empathy for the wounds she suffered. This climate of caring is what creates a healing of her Old Scar.
As Old Scars heal, you will be amazed to see how quickly the relationship climate cools down, which means that ANS arousal and withdrawal behaviors are aborted. The result: You now have a partner who is willing to stick around and resolve your real issues using the simple conflict resolution techniques that I outline in my book.