I don’t know if it’s a neurodivergent thing, a trauma response, or if it’s actually normal — but at some point during a heated argument with my partner, my entire system shuts down. I become instantly touched-out, furious, and have zero interest in fixing whatever problem lies between him and I.
Once I get to this point, I don’t want to be comforted. I don’t want kind words or even neutral words spoken to me. It’s like I get so caught up in my anger that I expect my partner to be just as angry as I am, and I don’t know how to receive patience and understanding during a fight. It is foreign to me, and used to come across as disingenuous, causing me to stand my ground in the fight no matter what.
This was a major problem for my husband and I during our engaged season and especially in the early years of our marriage. I needed to be right. I needed someone to take fault. I could never just “agree to disagree,” I could never pick my battles and let things go. I was fine admitting when I was wrong, but only if I was entirely incorrect and he was completely blameless. Looking back, I was majorly toxic during our arguments for years and had no idea. That is, until my husband decided to try something new.
A few months before our wedding, we attended a marriage retreat required by our church. We chose the over-night, two-day option–and boy did we learn a lot! Seven years later, we still use several of the communication tools taught to us during that retreat in ebbs and flows, but there is one constant: hold hands during a heated argument.
I had forgotten all about this advice until one day, in the middle of an emotional disagreement, my husband reached out his hand and said, “please hold hands with me.”
I stared at him, my cheeks flush from the sudden change of tone. He wanted me to do what? I crossed my arms and shook my head no (like a toddler, I know). He stretched his arm out further across the table and gently nudged my elbow. “Come on,” he said. “Hold my hand. Please. I need you to hear me.”
Everything in me wanted to scream NO. I didn’t want to be made to feel better. I was mad, and I wanted to stay mad. My anger was justified, and I didn’t want him convincing me otherwise. He still had his hand palm facing up, waiting for mine. I wanted to reach for him, because I hated fighting with him and wanted the fight to be over. But if I did that, that meant I surrendered my point, right?
I struggled, but I eventually told him my exact thoughts: “I’m scared if I hold your hand, I’ll feel better. And if I feel better, you’ll feel better. And then the fight is over, and I can’t bring this back up again even though I’m still not okay, because we made up. Holding your hand makes it look like I’m okay with where we are in this discussion, and I’m not. So no, I won’t hold your hand.”
My husband responded, “Holding my hand doesn’t mean you’re okay. It doesn’t mean this discussion is over, or that we can’t revisit it later. It means we’re on the same team. I trust that everything you say and do is with us in mind, with me in mind. You gotta trust me back. Now please, hold my hand, and let’s keep talking.”
I hesitantly reached out my hand. I knew the moment I felt his pulse racing with mine, I’d calm down. In my head, calming down meant giving up. But my partner taught me otherwise. With our fingertips tracing each other’s palms, we worked through one of our worst arguments yet in record time–and never once did I feel like I wasn’t heard. In fact, we heard each other better than we ever had during a fight before. And his patience and kindness with me? I heard it for what it was for once, and it changed my approach in disagreements with my husband from then on out.
There are still times he reaches for my hand during a heated discussion and I tell him, “no, I don’t want to feel better right now,” and pull my hand away. But without a doubt, he will leave his hand out, palm facing up, patiently waiting for mine. It works every time.