What does it mean to “process something”?

 

We get told to ‘go and deal with’ or ‘process’ our issues all the time. But what does this really mean.

As an online therapist, let me break down how I would help a couple ‘processing’ something in couple’s therapy.

I’d start by asking each partner about a past incident, and we’d review it together. Note here that memory is biased and not a perfect recording of the past, so respecting each partner’s view of how it went down is important.  I’d also ask questions about how, whatever it was that happened, went badly and why this sucked for each of you respectively.  I always let both partners express their perspectives on the issue.

Often when people get a chance to express how they truly feel about something and to explain why it is important or so hurtful to them, they get surprised by themselves and end up learning more about themselves as well as learning about their partner.

For example, I had a client who’s partner was irritated with her for refusing to put away the Christmas decorations weeks after Christmas. When she got the chance to talk about this together in therapy she realized that, Christmas was the only time that her family were happy and nice to each other during her childhood.

She figured out that the reason that she wanted the Christmas decorations to stay up was because things were going so well and she was actually a bit scared that she and her partner would start fighting like her parents used to when the decorations were down and Christmas was over. In a way, she didn’t want Christmas to ever end, and by keep the decorations up, she subconsciously thought she could trick herself and her partner into believing that it was still Christmas time.

`She wasn’t consciously aware of this before discussing it in therapy and learned more about herself that day. Her partner was way less irritated with her now too, as he understood where she was coming from.

We also looked at why having the decorations up, irritated him so much and he said that he gets really anxious when things are left around and not put in their place. He was already stressed about work and desperately needed his house to be a place that he could come home to and relax. But seeing the decorations there week after week caused him to get more and more anxious and irritated. Before this talk he just could’t understand why his partner wouldn’t let him take them down, and that made him feel unsupported by her.

Now having both shared their perspective and gotten in touch with their emotions around this issue it was time for them to make a change. They were able to reach a compromise and agreed to leave the decorations out until 2 weeks after Christmas.

Pro tip: A good way to check that a couple has fully processed an incident is to bring it up again at a later stage and see if you are both able to talk about it calmly without getting back into an argument.

If you have some things you need to process in therapy, you can book a session with me today.

I look forward to meeting you.

Donna

What does it mean to Stonewall?

Stonewalling is when your body shuts down your verbal responses, and you turn your body away. This usually occurs in a quarrel.

Interestingly, men and women don’t generally look the same when they stonewall.

Usually when men stonewall during a conflict, they go silent, fold their arms and look down/away for an extended period of time.

On the other hand, stonewalling may be a bit harder to notice in women. Women tend to maintain eye-contact, however their eyes glaze over and their body friezes.

Researchers such as Gottman, have found that partners who are experiencing stonewalling are also experiencing flight or fight symptoms. They are in distress, their hearts race, they may experience tunnel vision and they usually perceive the things their partner says as an attack against them.

Because of this, it’s quite unlikely that the conflict will be resolved well until the person experiencing stonewalling gets a chance to calm down. If you can identify stonewalling in yourself or in your partner during conflict, it’s a good idea to have a short break or cooldown.

I know this is a tall order during a heated conflict, but explaining to your partner that you both just need a short time out (no longer than 30 minutes) to collect your thoughts may become a significant pillar that holds your relationship up.

If you and your partner would like a bit of help figuring it all out and strengthening your relationship, you can book a couple’s therapy session today.

 

Positive Sentiment Over-ride

Positive sentiment over-ride occurs when your overall positive sentiment towards your partner outweighs the negative.

According to Gottman, when a couple has positive sentiment over-ride, they are more likely to give one another the benefit of the doubt.

For example if your partner is comes home grumpy one day, instead of automatically thinking that they are angry with you or that they are a bad partner; you may think that maybe they just had a bad day or slept badly or something.

Basically positive sentiment over-ride acts as a sort of buffer against irritability in a relationship. You are understanding of your partner and that helps you to be more forgiving and tolerant of your partner.

If your partner comes home grumpy and you have a negative sentiment over-ride, on the other hand, you may interpret your partner’s grumpiness as a reflection of something that you have done. You will probably be hyper-vigilant towards criticism and put downs and therefore end up misinterpreting some of the actions from your partner to be more malicious or careless than they were.

Perhaps developing a stronger positive sentiment over-ride in your relationship could be beneficial to you and your partner. 🖤🖤