Article | Fabulous Women

The secret to a magical relationship

Posted on 24/05/2012

By Jo McHale
Does this sound familiar?

Imagine this. You are consumed with irritation. And it's all because of your partner (of course!).

So you go on the attack.You complain. 'You're so wrapped up in your own little world.'

You accuse. 'You never think of anyone but yourself.'

Maybe you also coat your words with sarcasm. 'Was it too much to expect that you would remember just one little thing that I asked you to do?'

And what happens? Your partner retaliates in the same vein (not surprisingly!).

'Oh, so it's all my fault, is it? You can talk! You just go your own sweet way, regardless.'

Or maybe your partner doesn't retaliate and instead, turns away and refuses to engage or else freezes, trapped in the energy of your onslaught. But you're just as irate because you don't even get a reaction. And that feels just as bad as retaliation.

So where does that leave you? Even more irritated, most likely.

The result? The temperature rises. Any hint of mutual care and understanding flies out of the window. And you've got a fight on your hands.

Why does this matter?

'At least we've cleared the air' you might say. Isn't that a good thing?'

Not necessarily! If you habitually resort to contempt, criticism, defensiveness and stonewalling when you're angry and not getting what you want, your relationship will spiral downwards. There's well-evidenced research by the American psychologist, Dr John Gottman, to back this up.

(NB: stonewalling means turning away and not engaging in the face of an emotional onslaught. It's a strategy that men typically resort to when their own level of emotional arousal skyrockets and they don't know how to deal with it. I'm not stereotyping here. It's part of the research findings.)

What happens?

Taken in isolation, the original trigger was most probably something relatively insignificant. But we get irritated or angry because of the way we think about it and the meaning we give to it.

A very simple example of an internal dialogue might go like this:

'You leave the newspapers, and the pages you've torn out of them, strewn all over the table for days on end. (This is the trigger event. Notice that the phrase 'strewn all over the table' already suggests irritation.)

'You know I want to tidy them away but you won't let me.' (Already, the blame is landing on you and I am implicitly describing myself as powerless.)

(And now, here comes a conceptual leap that triggers my feeling of irritation. 'This means you don't care about me. (The trouble is that I might not know that I've made this interpretation. All I'm aware of is a rush of emotion that I don't enjoy and for which I blame you. So when I talk to you about the papers, I'm angry.)

So what's the alternative?

  1. Keep a hold on reality by describing the trigger event in factual, neutral language.
  2. When you feel emotion rising, check the meaning you are attributing to the trigger.
  3. Think about what you are longing for in that moment. For instance, if you've identified the belief that your partner doesn't care about you, you're longing for more signs in the relationship that you matter. When you get enough of such signs, triggers like newspapers on the table tend to lose their power to stimulate intense feelings.

Step 3 above isn't easy to do on your own. And it is just one part in a wider process that I draw on to help people transform their relationships.

So if you'd like support in stepping out of 'fight' mode and into creating relationships that nurture and nourish you, give me a ring on 01252 792322 for a free exploration of how I might be able to help you. You can find out more about me on my websites: and

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