Stand up if you have you ever been in an argument with your partner? You know, one of those fights that leave you wondering where the last 24 or 48 hours went, because at the end of it somehow nothing got resolved and neither of you feel any better. Instead you’re exhausted and maybe even in a worse place than you were when it started! I’m going to assume I’m not the only one standing up right now.
For today’s post the question is: What can be done about it?
The answer is: Sing.
There are many many reasons why we might have an argument with our partner. Lots of them are good ones too. Quite frankly arguments can be a good thing. It means you are communicating. It means you know that something is not working right, but you’re both there trying your hardest to figure it out. [I know, haven’t gotten to the singing part yet, but bear with me]
Unfortunately, these productive and healthy arguments (let’s call them discussions from now on) can very often get derailed. In my experience one of the biggest reasons they get derailed is because in the midst of the discussion we start to have powerful feelings come up, like anger, sadness, or guilt. When we have difficultly coping with those feelings we go to defense (see last weeks post, which talks about the Triangle of Conflict). These defenses often come in the form of fearful or anxious thoughts or self-punishing thoughts. Common thoughts that have run through my mind in one of those “discussions gone bad” include: “I’m not good enough”, “I don’t deserve to be here”, “I’m a jerk”… those are the milder ones, and there are many many more. Personally and professionally, I’ve seen enough to understand that having these kinds of thoughts is pretty normal. It’s when these thoughts get in the way of having a productive discussion with your partner that they can be really damaging.
When we focus on those thoughts we often act like they are the truth. If I get stuck in believing that I don’t deserve to be here, then my actions will likely reflect that belief… and I’ll act like a bigger jerk!
So what does singing have to do with all of this? Let me tell you a little story.
A while ago, I was in one of those “discussions-turned-argument” with my wife. I was feeling guilty about a crappy thing I had done and she was rightly frustrated with me! The worst part was that, in my head, there were all sorts of terrible thoughts swirling around. That’s pretty normal, but those thoughts were getting in the way of us having a real conversation about what we both needed to move forward… AS EQUALS!! The guilt led to thoughts of being undeserving of her love and that I was a jerk. When you are so focused on those kinds of thoughts, it is REALLY HARD to come to the table as an equal partner, which is so important.
I was really really stuck in these thoughts because I did not want to sit with the feelings. So, how did I get out of my own way? Was I able to show up as an equal partner?
Right in the middle of our argument I started singing the chorus to an old Dennis Leary Song – I’m an A!$hole [Warning: I provided a link, but it is not for the faint of heart and some may find offensive, so if you click through to see it don’t say I didn’t warn you]. The title of the song says it all doesn’t it? It gave voice to all of the thoughts that I was having but at the same time it got me out of my own way!
After that, the discussion still took a while, but it was productive, I was there as an equal, I took responsibility for my actions and we figured out what needed to happen next. Showing up as equal partners is SO IMPORTANT for a healthy relationship.
What’s happened: I took my unhelpful thoughts and gave voice to them in the most ridiculous way I could think of. It completely jolted me out of my own skin. It was like a reset button. Singing your unhelpful thoughts is a diffusion strategy that comes from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. The purpose is simple: bring you back to the present moment so that you can make a value based decision instead of being stuck in unhelpful thoughts are feelings.
There are many diffusion strategies that we’ve talked about before, but in my experience, singing is far and away the most powerful way to disengage from the unhelpful thoughts and bring yourself back to the present moment. The singing needs to be silly too. Try singing all your unhealthy thoughts to “Old MacDonald” or to the Barney “I Love You, You Love Me”…
Of course, it is hard to do. Starting to sing in the middle of an argument takes some bravery, especially at a time when you are already feeling down. How will your partner respond? So, practice, practice practice. Practice on your own. Practice when the thoughts have only just started, when they aren’t to loud.
And then sing… sing to save your relationship!
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