Arguing with our partner is quite possibly one of the most stressful day-to-day experiences we can have. On the way out the door to work, when we arrive home and are trying to get dinner on the table, or right before bed; no matter how it happens, it’s kind of the worst. Bedtime is my least favorite argument time. My partner and I are both exhausted and even our best deescalating and coping skills can’t stop a petty disagreement from becoming a blow-out argument where we go to bed pissed and wake up feeling crappy.
Understanding our attachment styles is important in resolving fights more quickly and getting to the root of the argument. When we have a better sense of what our partner needs in the moment, we can meet the need faster and figure out what is happening under the surface (and move past defensiveness and hurt to have the real conversation).
For the anxious attachment style, we know these things:
- inconsistency in behaviors, presence, and responses is super stressful
- emotional dysregulation happens—meaning the person’s nervous system becomes upset and it’s hard to calm down (and often feels impossible in the moment)
- when things feel insecure in the relationship, the person with an anxious attachment style anticipates rejection and will do anything they can to avoid the anticipated pain, including escalating the situation to try to bring their partner closer, which seems counterintuitive to the partner
- sadness can quickly turn to anger and/or yelling; we see many feelings happening on the surface, and they can change without an observable trigger
When I think about soothing someone who has an anxious attachment style, I picture partners sitting on the couch arguing, and the partner who is more regulated turning toward the partner who is anxious, coming closer, and consistently reminding the anxious person how important they are to them and being curious about their emotions. This allows for co-regulation—both partners calming down together—and a calmer, more tender discussion of the issue.
Here are some examples of scripts to use to soothe someone with an anxious attachment adaptation during a conflict:
- I can tell you’re upset. Could you tell me more about what’s going on for you? I think I need some help understanding, but I want to.
- I know I hurt you. I’m sorry. It must have been stressful for you to worry about me/our relationship/that situation.
- I will be sure to stay in better contact with you next time so this doesn’t happen again.
- It seems like you are having a tough time calming down. How about we try snuggling for a few minutes and see if that helps? If you don’t like it, that’s okay, too. We can try something else. It’s important to me that you feel better soon.
- Let’s plan to talk about this tomorrow, too. I know we are both tired right now and I want to make sure we resolve this and repair it well.
What strategies have you found effective for self-soothing or soothing your partner during or after an argument? I'd love to hear them in the comments!
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