Years ago, Jana and I were walking in Central Park in New York, having a nice, relaxed time, when suddenly we were in the middle of a disagreement. Both of us felt hurt and angry, and it took a while to calm down.
A few days later, we had another out-of-the-blue disagreement.
The third time it happened, we said, “Wait a minute, what’s going on?” We dissected what led up to each disagreement, and we discovered a pattern.
We call it the A / B Pattern.
And you’ve probably experienced it, too.
We've created simple steps
you and your partner can use
to snap out of this pattern
and quickly reconnect again.
Here’s what the A/B pattern looks like:
1) Everything is fine.
2) Person A says or does something with the best of intentions, having no idea it might not feel good to Person B.
3) Person B gets triggered. Perhaps they...
- Feel slighted or not considered.
- Don't like A’s tone of voice.
- Get triggered into old fears or beliefs.
- Think A is making light of something that B feels is serious.
- Believe A has a hidden meaning or agenda.
4) B reacts negatively. He or she might...
- Say something hurtful.
- Accuse A of being mean, insensitive, uncaring, etc.
- Stomp off in anger.
- Become quiet and sulky.
5) Person A feels hurt by B's actions, and reacts back.
6) And now they are in a full-blown A/B pattern.
Here's what makes it an A/B pattern:
Both people feel hurt, and they both think that the other person started it.
Each person thinks the other one should apologize and take responsibility for ruining their nice time together.
This can often become one of the biggest sticking points:
“You started it! You need to apologize!”
“Oh, that’s great. You never take responsibility for anything, but put all the blame on me.”
"You think this is my fault?"
Which only makes the argument worse.
But here’s the most important point:
Neither person intended to start anything.
So here’s how to get out of an A/B Pattern fast:
Share this concept with your partner while you are in a good space with each other. Agree that AS SOON as one of you thinks this pattern is happening, he or she will say something.
When you think the A/B Pattern is starting, here's what to say:
"Wait a second—I think we might be in an A/B Pattern. My sense is both of us are feeling hurt and upset, and neither of us intended that to happen. I didn’t mean to do anything to upset you. Did you mean to get me upset?"
Other person: "No, of course not."
"Okay, let's both take a breath. We love each other, and we never intended to hurt or upset each other."
And then here's what to do:
Both of you focus on really seeing your partner, and feeling his or her love. Take some breaths, and consciously calm yourselves down.
Put your reconnection into words or actions: tell your partner that you love them...say you're sorry for doing something that didn't feel good...hold hands...give each other a hug...say or do that private make-up signal that only the two of you know....
Here's what you DON'T do:
Immediately start rehashing what happened, and assigning blame.
When disagreements and disconnections happen, you suddenly feel as if the person you love is no longer on your side and that you aren’t a team. They can even feel like your enemy. That hurts and triggers strong defensive behavior. You need to reassure each other that you are on the same side. It's important to take time to rebuild your connection and feel like you are a team again.
Once things have really calmed down, you may want to discover what happened to trigger it. Make sure you don't do this from a blaming energy, but from a desire to learn how to take care of each other better and not unwittingly trigger your partner in the future.
Shifting out of the A/B Pattern is easy—and yet it may take some focus and practice
When you are in the middle of one of these arguments, it can feel like an unstoppable runaway horse—but you CAN stop it.
It might feel that you MUST defend yourself, prove your point, or make the other person pay for what they did to you.
But when you stay in this pattern, you are creating more hurt and pain for yourself and your partner.
When you consciously choose to see that your partner loves you and didn't intend to hurt you, you can start letting go of the argument, and reconnect to your loving energy with each other.
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