Who Started the Fight? And Why It Matters...

May 09, 2024

In this episode of the Advanced Relationship Podcast, Bryce Bauer and Jenny Morrow talk about Who Started The Fight, And Why It Matters...

1. When "who started it" matters
2. The differences in the work of the anxious and avoidant positions
3. How to work with the unspoken senses (energies of annoyance, avoidance, and disconnection)
4. How to assess if you're in a place of one-up (blame) or one-down (shame)

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If you prefer reading, you can read the transcript here: 

All right, welcome back to our channel. I'm Bryce.

And I'm Jenny.

And if you're watching on YouTube, please subscribe. If you're listening on Apple Podcast, you can also check out our YouTube channel.

Yep, so welcome to the Advanced Relationship Channel Podcast with Bryce and Jenny.

Yes, and we have a fun one for you today, the million dollar question, how do you figure out who started the fight?

This is a good question, Bryce. I'm excited to dive in today.

Yeah, because if you can figure out who started the fight, and then they see that, and then they apologize, then you're good.

Smooth sailing.

It's all done. Yeah, that's the fantasy. It doesn't always work like that.

Sometimes it does with small things. I think if you're in a secure spot with each other, you can have those little micro interactions that you can patch up real quick, and that's great. But most of the time, if you don't have a system and a secure foundation.

So we're gonna be talking about all the other times when you try to do that, figure out who's wrong, and it doesn't work, and you get caught in some trap of scorekeeping and resentment and contempt, because that doesn't feel good. And a lot of the couples that come in to see us are in some sort of pattern like that, where they just really can't get back to security or feeling like really safe with each other.

Great, should we dive in?

Okay, so let's first define fight in the way that we're using it. What would you say a fight is?

Yeah, I would almost use the word conflict more. And what we're talking about here is when that energy rises of like what happens when we feel disconnected from ourselves or from our partner. Either there's a miss, a misattunement.

We have a difference of opinion. We have maybe conflicting, we have conflicting needs, or at least they appear conflicting. We're not sure how to integrate them yet.

There's a variety of things that can create this experience we call conflict, and that can turn into fights or arguments. So there's different ways we can approach conflict, but that's really I think what we're talking about here is how do you navigate the experience of conflict?

Yeah, and it's really like low to medium intensity. We're not talking about physical fights. We're not talking about really intense verbal, emotional, abusive situations.

This is just more for the average couple in the average disagreement.

Yeah, I would say we're really talking about more couples who have enough of a foundation of physical safety and psychological safety that they might start to feel maybe the safety waiver a little bit, but they trust the relationship enough to know that they can navigate conflict. There's a way to do it in a healthy way, even if you're not sure what that is yet. That's what we're here to talk about today.

Yeah, no matter where you're at, I think this will be helpful. So the first thing to understand I want you to try in this framework is that oftentimes, it really doesn't matter who's right or who started the fight. What matters is how you both deal with it once it gets started.

Yeah, and John Gottman, who's probably the most well-known marriage researcher in the United States, is very clear about that, that couples who are more likely to stay together and be satisfied in their marriages or their relationships, it's not that they never fight or have conflict, it's how they fight, it's how they navigate the conflict.

It's actually a really healthy part of a relationship to get into disagreements as you're differentiating from each other, bringing in your needs, bringing in your feelings, and having some energy there. But what helps security is having the ability to work through it, because what it teaches us and trains us to do is to go into situations and to be fully honest with each other, and then have the trust in our relationship that we can hold all that and work through difficult things, because it's just the reality that if you're in a close relationship with someone, you're sharing so much together, there's gonna be many, many moments of this coming up, because that's just life.

And it is an interesting paradox that the closer we get to someone, whether it's ourselves or another person, the more differentiated we actually need to be as well. They're not opposites, they're two sides of the same thing. So the closer you get, the more differentiation that needs to be there.

And so it is, that's what can bring up conflict often is going through that process.

Yeah, and I would even say as you're differentiating, you're also growing your ability to connect because connection really requires us to be two individuals and trust in our own abilities and have our own backs here to be able to do these things together and really evolve and grow in more advanced ways.


One flag that we want to plant here because Jenny and I try our best to be as ethical as possible and to be as helpful as possible without causing damage is that there are cases where it does matter who started it. Cases of physical abuse and emotional abuse and gaslighting and threats, those are all situations in which if one person is continually doing that, that really does need to stop and we need to know who's at fault. Relationships are not always 50-50, and that's part of our job is sorting that out with people and putting the responsibility on the parties in a way that feels fair and balanced and that can create more equality in the relationship.

Yeah, and that's really important because in order to do intimacy development in the higher levels of relational development, there has to be equality. So if there's not, if there are power imbalances or if people are misusing their perceived power over someone, then we really have to balance that out. Or as relationship coaches, we might even refer people to programs for addiction treatment, domestic violence treatment, things like that, where it's not about who started it.

That's really not what we're asking. But what we are looking at is if there's domestic violence, if there's addictions, if there's emotional or psychological abuse, that has to get taken care of before we can do relational intimacy work. And so there have to be enough boundaries set up for that foundation of safety to exist to even do what we're gonna be talking about today.

Yeah, good point. Another idea that we want to introduce you to is instead of thinking about who started it first, what you wanna try to look at is who disconnected first. Sometimes this is the root of where the problems are coming from.

Yeah, and I sometimes think about it as a yoga practice. So when we're doing yoga with ourselves, one of the things we look at is when we start to get imbalanced, and there's signs that we're starting to get imbalanced and we sway different directions. And our goal is to come back to center.

And it's the same thing when we're in conflict with ourselves or with each other, is when disconnection happens, you'll start to get signs of the swaying. And that can happen when you start to notice any of the fight, flight, freeze, or fawn responses. Certain psychosomatic responses will start to come up anytime we start to get imbalanced with ourself or misaligned from being present and okay with our emotional experience, okay with what's happening, able to be with our partner in a way that's present.

When we start to lose balance, right? And if we're doing partner yoga, as soon as we start to lose balance, we can kind of start to imbalance the whole system. So really what can be more important is like, okay, who's disconnecting?

And how do we turn towards and support that getting re-centered?

Yeah, yeah, that's a good point. And I think I bring this up because this has been more of a struggle for me. And I can even give a personal example, a little pattern that I think we've done a lot of work on is that let's say I'm feeling some stress in my life or in any given situation, and Jenny might also feel anxious and she's bringing a question to me.

And there's absolutely nothing wrong with asking questions, but I might feel annoyed in response to that annoyance, I start to just focus on myself and ignore her. So in that moment, I'm the one who's disconnecting. That's really the thing that needs to be tended to first.

And we need to understand how this pattern happens. And Jenny and I's work can look different, right? Like Jenny might be there and present and willing to connect, but if I'm kind of turning away from her, my work becomes turning towards her again and reconnecting with myself.

And it's okay to say that I need space or I need to take a few breaths here, but that's my work. Whereas your work might be to stay patient as long as I'm communicating and not also disconnect or blame me for having kind of a moment of disconnection. And this is where this whole balance flow thing comes into play.

Yeah, that's a really good point. Because I'm imagining that, yeah, sometimes, and maybe sometimes I am kind of swaying with myself a little bit trying to stay center, or I feel fine, I feel secure, and what I'm doing and Bryce starts to slip. And like there's some kind of a dance between us where I'm not perceiving a problem, and you are, you're experiencing an energy of conflict in yourself around how we're interacting or our relationship.

So that's a good indicator that he needs to look inside himself and figure out what's going on there. And I can turn towards him and support him. If I start feeling the blame, or I start feeling any aggression towards me, you know, even just in subtle psychological ways, then, you know, my work becomes to disengage, set boundaries and say, you know, I'm available, but I'm not available for that.

I'm available to be present when you're ready to be present with me, and we can sort through this.

Yeah, and maybe we can talk about that because I'm thinking about what does that mean, subtle psychological ways. I mean, I have a good understanding of this in myself that even if I'm not saying anything, like I think I really do respect Jen. I don't call her names.

You know, I don't like lash out at her and get really big and loud with her. But there are ways that I can, with my energy and my body language or facial expression, really shut down or put up walls. And I think we're really attuned to that.

And I think other, you know, most people are really attuned to that. So sometimes it's hard to put words to exactly what is happening that you're seeing in your partner. And if they don't know and they can't come back to themselves and put words to what they're experiencing, it can feel really confusing.

Like, I don't know what's going on with you. That's probably the place that you can be in sometimes. And if I'm like, well, that's all your problem, you know, it can, or I'm sending that message anyways by just turning away from you, that can cause you to feel really insecure too.

So I think one thing that we really help couples with is like paying attention to those subtle cues, labeling them, calling them out, and giving tools and skills to turn back to your partner and yourself.

Yeah, and that's so important, right? Because we really are, we are wired to notice very small subtleties. So even if you don't consciously know that's what's happening, we're all wired to do that.

And being able to understand your partner accurately is so important and so helpful. And so that means they have to be able to understand themselves and speak about it. Because even though I've been a relationship professional for a long time, and Bryce has as well, and we do this together, I don't always, I might sense something, a shift in him, but I don't always know what it means.

I might assume, oh, he must be mad at me, but that's not always correct. So he has to be able to look inside himself and identify it. And when he can do that accurately, and I can hear him, that really helps.

And it's helpful if he is angry with me, or he's perceiving something in a way that hasn't feeling irritated or angry towards me, it actually helps if he's able to at least acknowledge that and then say, but let me see what's really going on here for me. Because logically, Jen, what you're doing is not a problem, so let me see what's really going on here. And that my nervous system can relax in that moment.

Yeah, and we can't understate how sensitive our nervous systems are to each other. I mean, multiple times a second, our brain is wired to look for threat, to look for danger. And the smallest glance or change in body language or tone can really light some of that up in us.

And especially if it's been happening over time, it can be even more sensitive to all the energy that our partner is feeling. So, I mean, can't understate it enough how important it is to know what's happening in our body and brains and be able to work with that.

Yeah, and the only way you get better at that is by learning the skills and tools and then practicing.

Yeah, so the next thing we want to talk about is ownership because, you know, usually both people are playing some part in this pattern on some level, and there's different ownership that's needed. But I think there's no way to really come back to center unless you can call out what's actually happening, see your behavior, reflect on it, and get honest about it with your partner. And ownership can look different depending on what position you're playing in the conflict.

I think if you're the one who's acting out let's say, in a maladaptive way, you're probably the first one that needs to come to your partner and own that behavior first because they probably aren't feeling safe with you. It's pretty normal for couples to go into a one down, one up dynamic with each other. And you'll know if you're in the one up position because your finger will be pointed at them.

Okay, when you're in the one down position, your finger is mostly pointed at yourself. And this is something that I think most people, when given some space to settle into, they'll catch and when we give them this language, they'll understand what that means. But if you're in a conflict, notice, am I really putting my attention on my partner or the world or whatever they did wrong?

Or am I really making myself wrong in this situation? If you're the one that's pointing the finger, odds are that you're the one that needs to take ownership for your behavior in your own grandiosity here and speak that to them.

Yeah, generally, it's going to be like the opposite that's gonna create the balance. So again, a lot like a physical body practice that when you start to imbalance, what you have to do is you have to swing the other way to get back to balance. So if you're a one-up with the criticism going out or the however you said that I just really liked it, it's going to be turning the attention back inward to say what's going on with me instead of like they're doing something bad or wrong.

Like, wait a minute, what's going on with me here? Turn back toward self. And same thing the other way.

If you're in more of a one-down and you're feeling bad or small or in shame, then what you need to do is say, wait a minute, what's going on out here that actually might be an issue? And let me come back up to center and see what the truth is. The goal really ultimately is just to see the truth and come back to center.

And so one-up, one-down is one of the directions is our critical thoughts going outward or inward if you get imbalanced. And then one-forward, one-back, like are you too far forward or are you too far back is another way to think about it.

And when you say forward, it's like you're leaning into their space, you're, that's what you mean, right?

You're leaning out of your center and trying to fix something that belongs to someone else. Or it could be I'm leaning away from my center and I'm not even willing to be with what I need to face.

Okay, and this is a whole nother kind of concept of this axis that we work with, but do you want to explain what leaning back or leaning away?

Yeah, and I was just thinking about how, you know, when we put the two axes, one up, one down, leaning forward, leaning back, and we put them together, we get four quadrants. And these really correspond with the fight, flight, freeze, and fawn responses. So maybe what I'll do is, I'm not gonna go into that more today.

We'll do a different video on it. Actually, what I'm going to do is I'm going to create a little video on this specific topic and the four quadrants. So go to the description below, and I'm gonna link it.

You can click on the description below to get the four quadrants of masking, and I'll do a little video that talks specifically about that. But basically what I'll just say here is when you're leaning into, when you're leaning away from center, and center's the middle, and into one of those four responses, you just know that there's some kind of imbalance happening, and that's usually a polarity issue. And then the way to navigate it is to swing the other way to start to create that balance.

Yeah, there's a lot there, so I'm glad you're gonna provide a link to more info. Okay, so that's feeling fairly complete for this video. The answer to how to figure out who's at fault in a fight is most of the time it doesn't matter.

There are cases where there's abuse where it really does matter, but the more important thing to pay attention to is what is the stance that we're doing? Who's disconnecting? Where am I on this axis?

Do I need to step more into myself and use my voice? Do I need to humble myself by taking ownership? Do I need to get into more myself because I'm too focused on them?

Or do I need to step up more and be more vulnerable about what's happening for me? And of course, practicing ownership. This is a great skill to have.

Being able to see your behavior, have awareness around it, and own it to your partner helps them build the trust that you understand what's going on for you and that this pattern won't continue in the same way forever because you are both working on it. It's both in your awareness. And this is really the golden ticket to resolving conflict is awareness.

We have to grow our capacity to understand what's happening here, and then we can work with whatever's there. But if we don't know, there's really nothing we can do about it.

I love all that. Thank you so much for being here to be with us to talk about this. And it feels really exciting to be growing in our own capacity.

In myself, it's awesome to be growing in our capacity as a couple. And it's really fun to be sharing all of this with all of you.

Take care.

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