The Magic Trigger-Shift

by Jami and Marla Keller

Are you tired of having the same fight over and over again with your spouse or significant other? It’s exhausting and will eventually lead to discontent and disconnect in your coupleship. There is one thing you can do to win every argument… Really. And it works no matter who you feel conflict with including parents, siblings, children, coworkers, etc. if it can be done with no agenda or manipulation.

We must warn you that once you know this secret you will be responsible for doing your best to take care of your side of the street (emotionally) or there will be (continued?) lost sleep, hurt, and frustration. Consider yourself warned, and if you’re still reading this, you’re ready!

The First Agreement for a Successful Coupleship

Your feelings and perceptions are real and only you are responsible for caring healthfully for them. This means that your partner’s feelings and perceptions are real and only they are responsible for them.

Seems simple doesn’t it? It’s not because, well, life…

(Marla) I have to admit, sheepishly, that I  h a t e d—I mean, despised—this agreement when we were taught it back in the late-90’s. Jami had shot an arrow into the depths of my soul (or maybe he just bumped one that was already there) and I was red-hot ANGRY and HE was responsible for my anger, darn it! As you can see through the lens of the first agreement, I was dead wrong, and in this poisonous state, I was lashing out at Jami in rage and blaming him instead of taking responsibility for my feelings and experience. It would have been the end of our relationship if I hadn’t gotten a firm grasp on this very important concept—only I am responsible for how I feel. Whoa. That’s hard stuff.

Why isn’t it simple, you ask? Because everyone has blind spots about how they really feel (yep, even you) whether that’s due to stuffing their emotions or not being allowed to feel as a little one. Did you ever hear, “Shut up or I’ll give you something to cry about” or “Big boys don’t cry” or the seemingly innocuous “Relax, you’re fine”? Perfect words to shut down your ability to feel your emotions and express them healthfully. Here is a quick test to see if you are present to your current feelings: In ten seconds can you name three feelings you are feeling right now? And for those of you who are experts at stuffing your feelings remember “good,” “bad,” “fine,” “okay,” and “so-so” don’t count. Did you know that understanding where those feelings come from is vital for your health both emotional and physical? Studies show “[w]hen the mind thwarts the flow of emotions because they are too overwhelming or too conflicting, it puts stress on the mind and the body, creating psychological distress and symptoms. Emotional stress, like that from blocked emotions, has not only been linked to mental illness, but also to physical problems like heart disease, intestinal problems, headaches, insomnia and autoimmune disorders.” Yikes!

This is why we developed the Feeling Wheel 5.0.

Even if you are one of the rare people that can name three distinct and deep feelings within ten seconds, it is much harder to do when you are in conflict and already solidly triggered into your preferred mode of feeling can be very complicated and keep you from being your best. Being aware of your current feelings and taking personal responsibility for them allows your partner to have their feelings and be responsible for their them. (Marla) Jami and I have been practicing these tools for a while now, but I still make crap up about how he’s feeling. We used to end up in a heated argument, or “loud discussion” as my parents called it, but now we’re able to stay on our side of the street most of the time (unless someone’s being stubborn…like me. Ughhh). And it goes like this: I feel distance from Jami and I make-up that he is upset with me. I ask him, “Are you okay? I am feeling distant and I make-up that you are frustrated with me.” At least ninety-nine percent of the time he responds, “Oh, shoot, no I’m not upset with you. I am feeling ___________.” (His usual responses are that he’s tired, he’s concentrating, or he’s not feeling well.) Boom. Knock-down-drag-out avoided.

Magic. It takes practice (a lot!) and you can make significant improvements in your coupleship if only you practice feeling your emotions, but it’s incredibly helpful if your love is onboard with taking responsibility for their emotions as well. You cannot force them to, but you can start practicing it yourself and see what happens. Your best step forward is to write in your private calendar what you are feeling three times a day. It can be helpful to attach those feelings to a person or situation. That’s it! Pretty simple, huh?! This first step is not only valuable for stopping the crazy in your coupleship it is also how you find your core values (we’ll have that blog for you in two weeks). Now go out and conquer the world, or at least your emotions. You’ve got this!

Next week check back for our blog on Dirty Fighting and how to stop it.