NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, December 3, 2022

Reducing Emotional Reactivity and Arguments in Your Relationship - Part 2

In my prior article, 5 Tips for Reducing Emotional Reactivity and Arguments in Your Relationship - Part 1, I began a discussion about this topic.  In this article, I'll provide a clinical example to illustrate how to these tips work with a couple having these ongoing problems.

Clinical Example: Reducing Emotional Reactivity and Arguments in a Relationship
The following vignette, which is a composite of many vignettes, illustrates how a couple can learn to reduce their reactivity and arguments:

Ann and Bill
During their fourth year of marriage, Ann and Bill, who were both in their early 40s, considered getting a divorce because of their frequent arguments.

Reducing Emotional Reactivity and Arguments in Your Relationship

While they were dating, they hardly argued at all.  However, after they had their second child, the stressors involved with raising two children took a toll on their relationship to the point where they were arguing nearly everyday.  

When Ann suggested that they try couples therapy, Bill was skeptical at first. But he agreed to meet with a couples therapist to try to work things out between them.

Their couples therapist, who was an Emotionally Focused couples therapist, helped them to see the ongoing pattern of their interactions, their attachment styles and how their differences were impacting each other.

Ann learned that she tended to have more of an anxious attachment style with Bill, and Bill learned that he tended to have an avoidant attachment style with Ann.  Although this is a common dynamic in couples, it also creates problems.

Whenever there was a conflict, Ann would want to try to resolve things immediately due to her anxiety, and Bill preferred to withdraw for a few days because of his avoidant dynamic. Bill's avoidance exacerbated Ann's anxiety, and Ann's anxiety made Bill want to avoid the issues even more.  This often lead to a downward spiral between them.

Their EFT couples therapist helped them to each have more empathy for each other.  Ann learned to give Bill more time and space so that he could calm himself before he dealt with the conflict.  Bill learned to appreciate how anxious their arguments made Ann feel, and he also learned to be more specific in terms of how much time he needed, so Ann didn't feel like she was waiting for him indefinitely.

Each of them make an agreement to reduce their emotional reactivity by reducing their stress levels. Ann took up yoga, and Bill learned a breathing exercise.  They both began doing mindfulness meditation to reduce their overall stress, so they could approach each other in a calm way when disagreements arose.

In addition, they learned to be patient and engage in active listening with each other. Instead of being preoccupied with what they were going to say, they gave each other their full attention.

They also learned to ask questions if there was anything they didn't understand rather than jumping to conclusions and reacting based on those conclusions. They also learned to stop invalidating and belittling each other other during their disagreements.

Although they still had occasional disagreements, over time, they stopped having big contentious arguments.  They were each much happier in their relationship, and they decided to remain married.

The five tips for reducing emotional reactivity and arguments are as follows:
  1. Calm yourself before you react
  2. Make an agreement with your partner to reduce emotional reactivity.
  3. Tell your partner that you want to know what s/he needs from you.
  4. Make an effort to understand what your partner is trying to tell you.
  5. Don't invalidate or belittle your partner

Getting Help in Therapy
Many couples are unable to work through their issues on their own.  In addition, some couples are having a difficult time due to the stressors involved with the pandemic (see my article: Tips on Getting Along as a Couple During the COVID-19 Crisis).

If you and your partner are unable to resolve your problems, you could benefit from seeing a couples therapist.

Many therapists including me, are providing teletherapy (also known as online therapy, telemental health or telehealth) while they are out of the office due to the COVID-19 pandemic (see my article: The Advantages of Online Therapy When You Can't Meet With Your Therapist in Person).

Rather than struggling on your own, if you and your partner are unable to resolve your problems, contact a licensed therapist who provides couples therapy.  

Working with an experienced couples therapist could save your relationship.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, Somatic Experiencing, EFT couples therapist and Sex Therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I am a sex positive therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.