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Stuck? Try Something Different!

Article by Lori J Collins MS MFT

Years ago, my son received a remote control car for the holidays. The car had two sets of wheels that turned in different directions. One day he was playing with it and it went under the china cabinet and got stuck. He proceeded to move the gear shift, up and down, in the same direction, but the car remained stuck. He quickly got frustrated, and I said to him, “Try something different. Move the gear shift a different way”. He did this and the car sped out from under the china cabinet to his delight.

Similarly, with relationships, we tend to get stuck in the same old patterned way, whether it works out or not. Especially with busy couples with kids, our gear shifts of coping get stuck on up and down, and we forget we can move side to side with other options. Like the car, you’ll have more movement with trying something different, versus the same old patterned response. How about trying something different with those old blaming patterns that keep you stuck with your partners.

Stop Blaming, Start Aiming for Solutions!

You know the feeling. You are smack in the middle of a fight with your partner and you’re feeling terrible and wanting to shut down, or so angry that you fight back. You may even start to question why you are with this person. At this point you are probably asking yourself the following questions that are keeping you stuck in the same old, blaming pattern:

“What is the problem?”
“Why is this situation happening?”
“Whose fault is it that this problem is happening?”
“How long has it been going on?”
“What other things in my life are effected because of this situation?”
“How am I feeling?”

These questions can often be the result of our brain being on emotional override, and your gear stick got stuck on negative thinking, and blaming your partner for feeling so lousy. The dilemma is that you are in so much emotional pain in the moment that you may not be thinking clearly. You may not be realizing that you may have a part in the fight. A common defense pattern that people use is to keep the pain outside of themselves, “So it must be your fault why I’m feeling so terrible right now.”

So what can you do? If you are really upset, then you may need to take a time out, or go for a walk. A good fair fighting strategy is to stop blaming your partner, take some time away from the situation, and reflect on what issue is getting triggered inside of you.

You then ask yourself the following questions, which can begin to help you move from blaming to aiming for solutions:

“What do I want in this situation?”
“How do I want it to be different?”
“How will I know when this has been accomplished?”
“How might this situation be effecting my partner right now?”
“What resources do I have within myself to apply in this situation?”
“What resources outside of myself might I possibly use?”
“What specific steps should I take to start the process?”
“How am I feeling”

Once you begin thinking rationally again, and are able to remember that this conflict may not just be about your partner’s behavior. You begin to notice that you are controlling the gear shift, and you are no longer limited to the up gear of fighting and anger, or the down gear of flight and withdrawal. Now you realize that you have other options in how to communicate with your partner. With this calm, you are now in a much better place to communicate with your partner in a way that you both feel heard and understood. It becomes much safer to open up and begin to understand how each of you are affected by the situation. This is a great start toward
finding solutions!

REMINDER TO DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT!

Stop asking yourself or others these questions that keep your gear shift stuck in negative thinking, negative talk, and blame. This results in the same old, unproductive fighting patterns with your partner:

“What is the problem?”
“Why is this situation happening?”
“Whose fault is it that this problem is happening?”
“How long has it been going on?”
“What other things in my life are effected because of this situation?”
“How am I feeling?”

Instead, ask yourself these questions which can shift your gears into more productive options. This can help you move toward more clarity and opportunity for more positive solutions:

“What do I want in this situation?”
“How do I want it to be different?”
“How will I know when this has been accomplished?”
“How might this situation be effecting my partner right now?”
“What resources do I have within myself to apply in this situation?”
“What resources outside of myself might I possibly use?”
“What specific steps should I take to start the process?”
“How am I feeling”

If my son can try something different, and move the gear shift a different way, why can’t you. Please use the solution-oriented questions in bold to help you move toward more clarity and understanding for whatever conflicts arise in your relationships. This will lead to more opportunities for understanding and connection with your partner, instead of being stuck in the same old rut of blame, anger and hopelessness.

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