Several years ago I worked with a client I'll call "Vanessa" who described herself this way:
"I'm a highly reactive and outspoken person with my partner. If he does something that annoys me, I have no filter between my irritated reaction and the words that come spewing out of my mouth. As a result, we fight a lot. I attack, he defends, and we're off and running, escalating in volume and expression until words are said that leave both of us hurt and shaken. Can you help?"
Vanessa was describing a common pattern that causes couples to argue: irritation, attack, defense, escalation. I shared with her that if she wants the arguing to stop and her husband to hear what she was trying to express, she would need to learn to curb her reactivity. At first it seemed like an impossible task. She had always, for as far back as she could remember, acted impulsively on her irritation. Could she break a lifelong habit? She had to try. She had to learn not to react and speak every time she felt irritated.
She had to learn the one skill that would preserve their harmony: Hold her tongue. Zip her lip. Snap her trap.
Vanessa was a dedicated client and she addressed her reactivity from all angles: