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Sunday, February 11, 2024

How to Stop Arguments in Your Relationship

In recent articles I've been focusing on how Emotionally Focused Therapy For Couples (also known as EFT) can help people in relationships to identify and break their negative cycles:

In the current article, I'm discussing an EFT strategy called TEMPO developed by George Faller, LMFT, EFT therapist and senior trainer, that can help you to stop arguments.

How to Stop Arguments in Your Relationship

George Faller and Laurie Watson discussed TEMPO in Episode 273 of their podcast, Foreplay Radio.

TEMPO can be especially helpful for couples who have the same argument over and over again without resolution.  This means they are stuck in a negative cycle, and they probably have no idea this is happening because they're unaware of their cycle. 

As I've mentioned in the previous articles, over time, the negative cycle erodes the relationship because couples don't know how to deal with it.

So, TEMPO is a way you and your partner can stop arguing about the same thing so you can break the negative cycle.

What is TEMPO?
First, let's define what TEMPO means.

George Faller, LMFT developed the acronym TEMPO based on the work of Magda B. Arnold, a Canadian psychologist who was the first contemporary theorist to develop the appraisal theory of emotions.

TEMPO stands for:

T: Trigger
E: Emotion
M: Meaning
P: Protection
O: Organization
  • Trigger: An emotional trigger includes the thoughts, memories, words or behavior that spark an intense negative reaction in you. Emotional triggers are immediate and come on suddenly without warning (see my article: Coping With Emotional Triggers).
  • Emotion: In the context of having an argument, emotions are what you experience that are related to the trigger.  You experience emotions in the body first before you can identify them mentally, so it's important to develop somatic awareness in order to be able to identify emotions (see my article: The Mind-Body Connection: Developing Somatic Awareness).
  • Meaning: Meaning refers to the story you tell yourself about what happened. It's what you tell yourself about what happened between you and your partner (see my article: How a Negative Narrative Develops).
  • Protection: Protection refers to what you say or do to protect yourself when you're faced with unpleasant emotions related to the situation you're in with your partner. This is usually an automatic reaction: fight, flight, freeze or fawn.  Protection can also be thought of as defense mechanisms.
  • Organization: Organization is a way to pause and slow down to:
    • Identify the Trigger
    • Identify the Emotion and where you feel it in your body
    • Identify the Meaning you're making of the situation--what you're telling yourself about it.
    • Identify the Protection strategy you use. 
Clinical Vignette
Let's take a look at a clinical vignette, which is a composite of many different cases, to clarify how the TEMPO strategy:

Ina and Pete
Ina and Pete, both in their early 40s, have been married for five years, and they continue to have a recurring argument about lateness.

When they meet for dinner at a restaurant, Ina tends to get there at least 10-15 minutes early and Pete tends to come 5-10 minutes late so that Ina usually has to wait for Pete.  Pete usually doesn't acknowledge his lateness or apologize for it, which sets off Ina.

When Ina is set off, she confronts Pete because, in EFT terms, she's an Emotional Pursuer and she wants to get to the bottom of why he continues to comes late and he doesn't take responsibility for it.

In EFT terms, Pete is an Emotional Withdrawer, so when Ina confronts him, he wants to avoid arguing.  As a result, he dismisses and deflects Ina's concerns, which triggers her even more.  So, Ina confronts him even more, which makes Pete withdraw more.  

This is pursuer-withdrawer dynamic is their negative cycle: The more Ina pursues, the more Pete withdraws. Eventually, they get tired of the argument and after an hour or so, they talk about something else. 

Even though it appears on the surface that they have resolved their argument, they really haven't because there has been no resolution to their negative cycle, so they will continue to have this argument the next time Pete is late again.

Let's look at how to use TEMPO as it applies to each of them and then how to look at their dynamic together.

Trigger: When Pete comes late and he doesn't acknowledge his lateness or take responsibility.

Emotion: Ina feels angry, frustrated and hurt that Pete continues to arrive late--even though she has told him many times how much this bothers her.  She feels especially upset when Pete doesn't say anything to acknowledge and apologize for his lateness. In terms of where she feels the emotions in her body, she feels the anger and hurt in face, shoulders and her stomach.

Meaning: When she is triggered, in that moment Ina feels, "He must not love me if he continues to come late and he doesn't apologize to me--even though he knows it bothers me so much."

Protection: In EFT terms, as mentioned before, Ina is an Emotional Pursuer. She wants to get to the bottom of this problem immediately. She has a sense of urgency about it because she wants him to care about her and she also wants save their relationship.

Organization: If Ina knew the EFT TEMPO strategy, she would pause to identify the trigger, emotions and meaning she made out of this situation before she reacted.

Pete's TEMPO
Trigger: Pete gets triggered when Ina confronts him about his lateness. He rushed to the event, despite dealing with pressing issues at work that needed to be handled before he left. 

Emotion: He feels unappreciated and unloved when Ina gets angry with him for his lateness. He's told her so many times that he can't help being late when he gets delayed at his office or when he gets stuck in traffic. He also feels angry and frustrated that she's not more understanding. He feels his emotions in his chest and the back of his neck.

Meaning: In the moment when he's triggered, he feels she must not love him if she greets him in such a confrontational way. 

Protection: In EFT terms, as mentioned already, Pete is an Emotional Withdrawer. He feels so overwhelmed when Ina confronts him that he can't think straight. He needs time to step back and gather his thoughts. But when he hesitates, he's confronted even harder by Ina, which makes him want to withdraw even more.

Organization: If Pete knew the EFT TEMPO strategy, he would pause to identify the trigger, emotions and meaning he was attributing to this situation before he reacted.

Putting It All Together: Organizing the Negative Cycle For the Couple:
Once you understand your side of the negative cycle in terms of your own trigger, emotion, meaning and protection strategy, you and your partner can discuss how to break the negative cycle.

In the vignette with Ina and Pete, it might go something like this:

Pete: "I know how much it upsets you when I'm late and I'm sorry. Instead of ignoring your emotions, I wish I had acknowledged it right away instead of getting defensive about it. From now on, I'll call you when I have a situation at work that will cause me to be late. I love you very much. Our relationship means everything to me, and I don't want to do anything to jeopardize it."

Breaking the Negative Cycle in a Relationship

Ina: "I know you do the best you can to try to come on time and sometimes you get delayed by emergencies at work or traffic. I know that what I feel in the moment--that you don't love me--is the story I'm telling myself when I get triggered and not how you really feel.  Instead of coming at you as soon as I see you, I'll take a moment to pause and calm myself instead of lashing out at you."

Pete: "I know you love and appreciate me too. In the moment when you get angry with me as soon as you see me, I feel like you don't care about me. That's the story I tell myself in that moment because I feel like I'm disappointing you and failing you."

Ina: "Let's make an agreement to pause when we're both upset so we don't react and we don't argue."

Pete: "I think that's a great idea. Let's do that."

Notice that both Ina and Pete had to approach each other with emotional vulnerability, which is often the opposite of what they were feeling at the moment when they were arguing (see my article: Are You Able to Express Your Vulnerable Feelings to Your Partner?).

This is why it's so important to slow down and pause so you're not reactive and you can each get vulnerable with each other because, ultimately, vulnerability is the way out of the negative cycle.

Is TEMPO an Automatic Fix For Recurring Arguments?
In a word, no--at least not immediately.

A negative cycle can be very challenging to change, especially if it's been a longstanding one. Emotions occur in a fraction of a second without a person's conscious awareness. 

It takes a lot of practice using TEMPO to try to change an ingrained negative cycle, but it can be done.

To complicate matters, emotional triggers are often related to earlier unresolved traumatic experiences from childhood (see my article: How Unresolved Childhod Trauma Affects Relationships).

For instance, if Ina grew up in a household where her father was unreliable and he was often late or he disappeared for days, she would be dealing with the current situation with Pete as well as, unconsciously, experiencing the old unresolved trauma related to her father.

If Pete grew up in a household where his parents criticized him a lot, he would be dealing with the current situation with Ina as well as, unconsciously, experiencing the old unresolved trauma related to his critical parents.

Getting Help in EFT Couples Therapy
TEMPO is a tool you and your partner can use, but if you continue to get stuck in a negative cycle, you could benefit from EFT Couples Therapy.

A skilled EFT couples therapist can help you to identify and break your negative cycle.

Instead of struggling on your own, seek help in EFT Couples Therapy to have a more fulfilling relationship.

About Me
I am licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

I have helped many individual adults and couples to overcome their problems, including unresolved trauma (see my article: What is a Trauma Therapist?).

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.