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Wonder Couples Class #4

Class Four: May 27, 2020 7:30-8:45 pm PST “Wonder Couples: We are the not the enemy!” 


How to navigate conflict in a way that builds strength and vitality in your relationship. 


Covered: Fighting Well


Carolyn will welcome people and Jason will be letting people into the meeting from the waiting room.  





Introduction (5 minutes) [Everyone muted] 7:35 - Very quick because repeat.

  • Tell people that they will have an opportunity to talk in the question and answer period.  Tell people that if they have questions during this period they can put them in the chat box.

  • Then, splitting the class up: Hi to each couple and wave as you guys hear your names called. 

  • Agenda for the class and the upcoming classes. (Jason)

    • SF, Attachment, Thirds, Conflict, repair, Spark/sexual connection, Charting a future.  Thursday Class added

  • Set up Make it clear that we are learning as we go along in this new medium.(Carolyn) 

    • Bear with us as we learn this process

    • Muted unless in discussion

      • Please use the chat feature to write your question

      • Raise your hand and we will get to you

      • Wave at us if sound or something goes out.

  • Very quick - Review group norms 

    • This is not a therapy session. 

    • Many ways to be a couple-acceptance

    • All of us are under stress

    • We are learning and practicing here

    • This is a place of kindness and acceptance of all people/all couples

*Brief connecting experience (10 minutes) Jason 7:40


Opening exercise: This exercise will help you to understand the complexity of your partners experience and to ally with your partners experience at different different levels.


Take a look over at your partner.   


From the level of their physiology- Either place your hand on their heart or feel their pulse.

From the perspective of their emotions - Notice the places on your partners face where they show sadness, anger, joy.  Can you feel into their emotional state?

Now at the level of their feelings -embodied emotions- - Touch the place on their face gently where they feel sadness, joy, anger.

Now see them from the perspective of their thoughts- Are they a fast thinker, contemplative, day dreamer, do they think before they leap, dive in, do they get stuck on thoughts or not think things through?  

Now see of them from the level of their behaviors- Picture them during their day, all of the little things they do… Take their hand.  Show them that you appreciate it.  That you accept them, you know how hard they try.


Become an ally at each level.  Love their physiology, embrace their emotions, etc.


Discussion: 7:50

Jason leads off:

It’s really quite astounding if you think about the person in front of you and all that goes on inside of their body and mind, not to mention all of the behaviors that they do all day .  Our hope is that breaking them down the way we did in the intro exercise helps you to see that there really is no way to live in close proximity to someone you are deeply dependent upon without there being conflicting needs, desires, feeling and thoughts.   There are so many opportunities each day for our behaviors to clash (why did you load the dishwasher like that?), our physiologies to collide (you snored all night long). Feelings to get hurt and emotions to bubble up (I was in a great mood until you came in and brought that up).  Of course the opposite is true- there are many opportunities to connect, however, for today's purposes we are focused on the strong pull to go to war and setting the shared goal of following the principle that we are not the enemy.


Clashing, arguing, frustration, fighting are all inevitable, and quite natural and because of this, the fact that we get into conflict is normal and not the problem.  The problem is how we fight.  


As Stan Tatkin says, “there is nothing more difficult on the planet than another person.”  You would think this would mean that we would learn early and often about how to do this well, however, we often receive the opposite.  Many of us get lots of practice with the opposite and get good at the opposite.  We learn to bully or shut down in the face of interpersonal adversity.


The goal is not to eradicate conflict, that would be impossible.  Within conflict is the opportunity for growth.


Today we will give you some basic training in how to fight well and how to become a careful observer and ally for each others, brains, nervous systems and attachment patterns.


5 minute argument #1- win/win, 


Fighting well: 



Let’s look at what it means to fight well.


  • What’s the goal of the argument. - Win/win

    • Set off with a collaborative goal

    • Stick to one topic at a time.


  • Put safety of relationship above being right or winning

    • Be on the lookout for signs of rising arousal

    • Threatening faces, skin tone, voice


  • Work on the problem not the person

    • Practice taking your partner's side during the argument

    • Process over content


When we get into high arousal


  • Know your partner’s triggers


  • Have signals 


  • Stay away from the level of characterization:  “you always”. 


  • Practice balancing negative and positive states: “I love you and I find you so annoying”. “I am angry with you and I love you”. 



Fighting is hard on the body and hard on the relationship: Uses a lot of resources physically and comes at a cost when done poorly. We are talking about fighting. We are not talking about disagreeing, collaborating or debating. Fighting: When you have lost control of the thread between the two of you and the relationship is at risk of dropping from first position to second, third, tenth….


Let’s start at the level of physiology: 

Neurobiology and arousal regulation

Brains wired to keep us safe. We are hypervigilant to threat in the fastest acting part of our brain. We have a negativity bias to keep us alert to threat. So we see it even when it isn’t there. When our stress is higher than normal, this likelihood is higher. This is the brain. This is how it works. Knowing this allows you to help yourself stay “friendly” as well as to read how your partner is doing. 


  • Threat perception and reaction: 

    • Signals in facial expression, body language. What does your body do when you are annoyed, angry, frustrated? Do you know how you look when you are communicating frustration to your partner?


  • Fight, flight, freeze

    • When under threat, is your impulse to run or to attack? We all are geared in one direction or another

      • Important to note: This is a response to a perceived threat. One might be tempted to ask, “why the heck does he feel threatened about my request about the toaster?” It is not the WHAT it is the how. Knowing how you look to your partner when talking about something helps you to know that you were perceived as threatening.

        Lots of people want their partner to “change their perception” (“dont’ be so sensitive! I am only joking”) but that fast acting brain perceived threat and made an immediate move. 

Think about what you do when you are upset and what your impulse is: do you go on the offense or do you try and get away? Again, this is wired into us, so accepting this and accepting that when our partner wants to run or is starting to attack us, it is out of a perception of threat. 


When we go into fight or flight, all the blood in our brain moves to the protective places, and we LOSE ACCESS to the smart part of our brain. The PFC is USELESS in fight or flight. This is why you want to get good at fighting, because things can go from bad to worse, very quickly. 

  • Arousal duration

    • Everyone has a speed of escalation and deescalation: how long it takes our nervous system to go up and come back down. Some people go hot quickly and then simmer down sloooowly. Others simmer up for a while but calm down fast. 

      • Who gets mad quickly? 

      • Who takes a long time to come back to baseline. 

Attempting to discuss things when our nervous system is in fight or flight is useless. So while you may calm quickly, you need your partner to be as calm as you to make it worthwhile. 


7:55 (Jason)


So, how do you go from the lower parts of your brains (primitives) to the upper parts (ambassadors)?  How do you shift your 2 nervous systems from a fight flight state to a state where you can relax enough to come up with a collaborative solution?  How do you alter your perception of your partner as threatening or your partner's perception of you as threatening?  


One thing that we can say for sure is that you are not going to be able to use fear, threat or guilt.  We can also see that w/in our survival system we are wired together and we can hold onto the idea of nervous system that has wired together.  So we have a shared goal and a shared purpose.


This can be quite a different narrative than the one we were raised with.  


Attachment patterns:

Perhaps your partner was left for too long in distressed states and learned to soothe on their own so in times of conflict they pull away into themselves for soothing.

Or perhaps your partner’s early experience was one of having to care for the caregiver in big ways and small so that they have trouble self soothing in an argument.


8:10 Exercise: 5 min argument 


Come up with a small argument you have all the time. SOMETHING BENIGN but annoying. 


Take your partner's side.  3 minutes

Fight with a friendly face and gestures.  3 minutes


If time permits- do it again.


Then discuss: how did your partner look? Do they need any reassurance that they are more important to you than whatever you are disagreeing about.


8:15 Then another shot: 5 min. Try another thing. 


Then discuss: did you do anything different. 


8:20 Maybe a third time, each time we are giving pointers based on what is happening, what people are bringing up or we come up with common challenges in the 5 min argument. 


8:25 Final discussion about the process: What are your take homes? What will you practice? What do you think will help? (questions to pose to see what helps)


8:35 Then closing exercise: [Carolyn] 


Eye gazing with focus on no matter what else is going on with each other, you can offer care, even when angry or in disagreement. Can love and hate partner at same time. Leave them in each other’s care. 


Take a few breaths together. Offer a gentle smile as you do so. Now, perhaps tonight you all had fun being playful with your fighting style and you feel fine. So then use this time to continue to deepen your connection. Or maybe, talking about this brought to mind some of the challenging fights you all have had. Either way, let this closing exercise be a chance to remind yourselves that you can always come back here. No matter how frustrated or irritated you are, sitting across from you is the person you have chosen. It isn’t always perfect, sometimes it is far from perfect, but here is the place where you can return to each other’s care. It is always here if you create and nurture this space. Take a moment and return to those eyes. Express with your eyes that even when you hate them, you love them. Express with your face that you NEVER mean to cause them harm. Express with your hands on their hands that you love them no matter what. As we leave you, stay like this breathing together, letting go of any lingering difficulty from the class, and bringing in the love and vitality you both want. 

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