I still remember the first time I had an argument with my now husband.
Having met in college, we didn’t become serious in our relationship right away. Something about him, though, I knew that if we did end up moving to the next level–it was going to be a very important relationship.
He was the first person who seemed to accept me–even the parts of me I though were weird and undesirable–we laughed together, we were able to have really deep discussions, we had a lot in common and also enough differences that it kept things exciting. He was a good person and I did NOT want to bring any unhealthy dynamics into our relationship. I didn’t want to lose this guy.
And let me tell you, I had experienced unhealthy dynamics in past relationships. When relationships are dysfunctional, each partner plays a part. And I knew my part well–my anxiety can get the best of me.
I had (and have–though it’s managed a lot better now) that kind of anxiety that can worm into your brain and get you replaying and overanalyzing interactions, that kind of anxiety that tells you your biggest fears are truths, that kind of anxiety that tells you negative things about yourself until your heart is pounding and your chest is tight. That kind of anxiety that tells you “YOU NEED TO FIX THIS NOW! YOU NEED TO GET ANSWERS NOW!”
And when this kind of anxiety pops up in relationships unchecked, it can be very overwhelming for our partners. And really painful for us.
So by the time I had my first argument with my now husband, I had done a lot of work on my anxiety. I had studied anxious attachment in my psychology classes, I had started therapy, I had gone on a dating detox to confront my childhood traumas and focus on how I can take care of myself to be a better partner if and when I start a new relationship.
And I did NOT want all that work to go to waste.
I don’t even remember what we argued about, but I remember the feelings when the argument was over.
I felt scared he wouldn’t want to be with me anymore because of things I said or did.
I felt angry about the things he said or did.
I really (really really really) wanted to make things better and my anxiety was growing inside that way that it can (replaying the argument, focusing on my biggest fears, bullying me inside of my head) and I just wanted us to make it better.
But what I knew then and what I practiced for the FIRST time in my life (and now I practice regularly when the anxiety creeps in again) was that I SLOWED DOWN. Like, way down. I let us both have space. I distracted myself and focused on work and self care for the next 24 hours. I asked him if I could bring him dinner the next night. When we met back up, I apologized for *my part* of the argument and showed remorse. I acknowledged his thoughts and feelings. And then the magic part–he did the same for me! And my anxiety went away. We made up. And I learned for the first time that conflict is okay–that I don’t need to push through it or rush it. That it’s okay to disagree and it’s even okay to hurt each other sometimes if both people learn from it and acknowledge the other person’s feelings. Life changing, y’all.
So, if you (like me) can get very anxious after arguments, here are my best tips:
–Slow down and give each other space if either of you are triggered into a “flight or fight” response. We can’t communicate well or nurture each other if adrenaline is coursing through our bodies.
–Don’t be impulsive. Don’t make demands, threats to end relationship, or send texts trying to get your partner to respond. Let yourself cool down until you connect again in person or on the phone.
–Show yourself compassion by identifying your feelings other than anxiety. Are you scared, sad, hurt by something that was said? Is there any comfort or reassurance you can give yourself if your partner isn’t available to give you this comfort or reassurance?
–Recognize and own if you said or did anything that crossed the line in the argument. There aren’t ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys’ to find–you are both human and it’s helpful for both people to be open to growth by owning their own negative reactions.
–If you need connection but your partner isn’t available, turn to trusted people in your life. Don’t rehash the argument or get yourself worked up. Just spend time connecting and enjoying your friends or family.
-Distract yourself with positive outlets until your partner is ready to reconnect. Listen to music, read a good book, focus on a project you enjoy.
-Reconnect with your partner within 24 hours and share your feelings. Be compassionate to their own feelings and seek to try to understand where they are coming from. Ask them for reassurance and offer them comfort. Try to learn from the disagreement and forgive each other if warranted.
Anxiety in relationships is normal–but being ruled by our anxiety doesn’t have to be. Therapy can help you better understand your own anxiety and help you find new ways to cope so there’s more connection and less stress in your relationships.
Hi! I'm Megan Negendank, founder and executive director of Love Heal Grow Counseling.
I help hurting, worried couples & individuals heal from pain and create thriving lives & relationships.
You can read more about me or schedule an appointment here: About Megan