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Revisiting a rocky moment

Published 24.02.2022 - Produced by Väestöliitto the Family Federation of Finland in collaboration with the Finnish Association of Couple Therapy , psychologist Lotta Heiskanen , Family Federation of Finland
The aim of this episode is to learn to stop and break the cycle of negative interaction. In this episode, we will revisit a rocky moment where you were drawn into a cycle of distressing interaction. We will practice fixing the situation and creating a connection with your partner.

Exercise

1. Please start by reading the discussion between Minttu and Sampo. This episode does not include a video of the couple.

Negative cycle

It’s New Year’s Eve. Sampo and Minttu’s daughter, Asta, has pharyngitis. The doctor has put Asta on her first ever course of antibiotics. Sampo’s parents are visiting them. Asta has been out with her grandparents. When Minttu gets home, she notices that Asta has a rash on her face. Minttu gets worried. She tells Sampo that Asta might have an allergic reaction and that they have to take her to the emergency room to see a doctor straight away.

Sampo: Right now? You can’t be serious! I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Asta. Try to calm down. I think she looks fine. She’s running around happily. There’s no reason to be alarmed. Asta just has a few spots on her face. That’s all. I’m sure it’ll pass.

Minttu: No, listen to me! I know what this looks like! A reaction like that could be dangerous!

Sampo: Let’s just stay calm and think about it. It’s not easy to go to the health center on New Year’s Eve. There will be a long line at the emergency room. You’re getting worked up over nothing.

Minttu: You’re not listening to me at all. Here we are again. You’re belittling my worry and treating me like I’m crazy. What’s wrong with you? Don’t you care at all that Asta might be really sick? You should be supporting me, but you can’t do that, can you?

Sampo: What do you mean? That’s ridiculous. You’re making a mountain out of a molehill. Don’t be stupid. I think we need to calm down and not be rash and just monitor the situation. (turns to leave the room)

Minttu: (Speaking louder) What I feel means nothing to you! Is that what you’re saying?

Sampo: You’re being unreasonable and becoming hysterical.

Minttu: I refuse to argue with you. I’m going to call the emergency room. (turns to make the call)

Stopping a negative cycle

Sampo: (Breathes deeply and turns toward Minttu) Wait a minute, Minttu. I think we’re getting into the cycle again like we sometimes do.

Minttu: (Returns to the room and looks at Sampo) I just don’t think it’s right that you always… (After a moment of silence, she continues in a calmer voice) Okay, you’re right. We’re getting into the cycle again. I feel like you’re belittling me, and it makes me mad. Then you say I’m hysterical and unreasonable. And I get angry and criticize you in return.

Sampo: It always starts so quickly. But I’m beginning to recognize when it’s happening. I get a sinking feeling in my stomach. I stick to my standpoint even more firmly, and you get more anxious.

Minttu: I just heard you belittling my worry and that’s a trigger for me. Then I try to get you to react in any way possible. I just want to be heard.

Sampo: Maybe I don’t always listen to you enough. I defend myself, withdraw and get irritated when you react strongly. I understand that you’re really worried about Asta. Let’s call the emergency room and make sure she’s alright.

Minttu: Sampo, I’m really scared that it’s something serious.

Sampo: I’ll ask the people at the clinic what we should do.

Connection

Sampo: The nurse said a doctor will see her within a couple of hours. Asta’s rash doesn’t seem to have gotten worse. How are you doing, Minttu? I’m glad we came here just in case. I wasn’t listening to you at home. I realize that it’s difficult for me to listen to you when I hear in your voice that you’re disappointed and angry. I felt I should have noticed her rash. I was worried that you’d blame me for it.

Minttu: Yes, that’s your raw spot. Just like mine is not being taken seriously and listened to. And then I start to criticize and blame you and talk down to you. But now I feel a lot calmer. I feel like you’re listening. I wouldn’t have wanted to come to the hospital alone.

Sampo: You don’t have to do things alone. I’m here with you. I’ll go and ask the nurses how much longer we’ll have to wait.

A moment later…

Sampo: The nurse said we don’t have to stay and wait for a doctor. She said the doctor will prescribe another type of antibiotic for Asta. We can go home and come back if it gets worse. Is that okay?

Minttu: That’s probably best. Thanks, I feel a lot better that we were able to stop the argument we were getting into.

Sampo: Are you still worried about Asta?

Minttu: No, I’m not. But I do wish you’d listen to my worries, especially about the kids.

Sampo: I’ll try to remember how important that is to you. I too feel relieved we won’t be spending New Year’s Eve arguing.

 

2. Find the points in Sampo and Minttu’s discussion where one of them is able to

  • stop the cycle of negative interaction
  • take responsibility for the part they played in the cycle of negative interaction
  • recognize their feelings – both protective (such as annoyance) and softer feelings (such as fear
  • recognize the effect they’re having on their partner’s feelings in the cycle of negative interaction, in which they both influence each other’s reactions
  • ask about their partner’s feelings in an active and supportive way
  • share their softer feelings with their partner
  • realize that they can be allies together against any hardship

3. Revisit a time in the past when you found yourselves in the cycle of negative interaction. Choose a situation that’s not too big of a problem and that no longer brings up very strong emotions.

Please note: Try to observe the situation calmly with hindsight and with as much objectivity as you can. Don’t try to solve the disagreement you are observing. Instead, try to describe the situation as if you were watching it on video and explaining what’s happening. If you find yourselves in danger of entering the negative cycle during the exercise, take time out: “Did you see how easily we go into the negative cycle? Let’s not do that right now”.

 

4. Are there methods that Sampo and Minttu use that you could have used and that might have calmed things down and prevented you from drifting into the negative cycle?

 

5. At what points could you have stopped the negative cycle and what words could you have used to stop it?

 

6. What words could you have used to take responsibility for your part in the cycle?

Examine how your behavior influenced your partner’s behavior. For example: “I started to yell at you. That made you withdraw.”

 

7. What words could you have used to share your protective and softer feelings with your partner?

For example: “On the surface, I was frustrated. Inside, I felt sad because we were once again arguing.”

 

How to stop the negative cycle?

  • Recognize the negative cycle. Learn to act more consciously to break the negative vicious circle: “Did you notice that we’re in the cycle again that leads us nowhere? Let’s not go there this time.”
  • Both partners take responsibility for their own actions which pull the other partner into the negative cycle.
  • Both partners recognize their own emotions in the cycle.
  • Learn to understand how your actions and behavior affect your partner’s feelings.
  • Ask you partner about his or her feelings in an active and supportive way.
  • Share your vulnerable feelings with your partner.
  • Think of the negative cycle of interaction as a common enemy you’re fighting together. Your partner is not the enemy!

Was this helpful for you?

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