Everything in my house is capable of alerting me when action is needed:
My refrigerator, washing machine, alarm clock, dryer, oven.
I am warned of electricity wastage, mold dangers, missed appointments, smoke filled rooms, and burned food.
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a loud external alarm for when our own stuff was getting in the way of our ability to have a conversation?
Beep! Your fight is DONE.
Beep! TIME OUT, take a break, this argument is ON FIRE.
Beep! NAME CALLING.
Beep! Beep! Beep!
That’s what I do in my counseling sessions. I lean in and say “Look, this is the pattern I see – the loop in which you are stuck. I wonder what you could do differently in this situation.” I ask about crossed arms, rolling eyes, fidgety ankles and each question, each statement acts as a little alarm.
The beeps in my house slow me down, give me pause. And that is my goal as a couple counselor — to slow things down, give all three of us in the room a chance to see & feel what is happening in each interaction.
We get to a point where my clients are noticing their own internal alarms. They will say “I can’t breathe, my heart is racing. I can’t talk about this right now” They will notice feelings and ask their partner a question about it, “I feel like I’m being blamed and I’m the bad guy – is that how you feel about me?” My job then is to quiet my alarms, step back so they can hear their own beeps.
Really, we do arrive on this planet equipped with warning systems – it’s just hard to hear them with all the noise around us and inside of us. It takes practice, tuning in and a willingness to listen.