We all have wounds that stay with us from previous relationships…

How do you argue with someone who has anger that doesn’t come from you or your relationship? I have an amazing partner who tends to blow up and run, but I am certain these patterns are from previous relationships because his reactions to what we are arguing about are too big for the situation.

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We all have wounds that stay with us from previous relationships. We have all been hurt (albeit in different ways) that makes us sensitive to certain situations in our current relationship. When these old wounds get triggered people can go into fight or flight mode, or as you have termed it, blow up or run. Note: physical abuse and threatening are never acceptable.

You have the opportunity to be there for your partner and to make your partner feel safe

The best way that you can diffuse the situation in the moment is to remind yourself that you have the opportunity to be there for your partner and to make your partner feel safe. You can make your partner feel safe by showing them that you are not their previous partner.  Maintain a sense of stability, calmness, and interest in their well-being.

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Do not say something like, “You are overreacting.” Instead, say something like, “You seem really upset right now and I want to know more about that. Tell me what you are experiencing.” If your partner runs, do not take it personally. That is their way of getting away from the intensity of the moment.

In fact, Dr. Gottman’s research has shown that couples need to take a break from a heated discussion if they are flooded. When one partner experiences what we call “DPA” or diffuse physiological arousal (fight of flight response), we recommended to break from the conversation for at least 20 minutes to practise self-soothing. You can read more about DPA here and more in-depth explanation of self-soothing here.

Since you say it is your partner likely experiencing DPA – you can introduce this concept to him at a calm time in your relationship as a way of planning for the next time things get too intense.

In the meantime, your ability to hear, tolerate, and take in what your partner says to you will likely diminish the intensity. It’s amazing how quickly the intensity of emotion decreases when people are allowed to voice it and it is received.