Transactional Analysis and Fighting

One of the biggest issues I see in the course of couples counselling relates to the futility of fighting. Instead of discussions aimed at resolving an issue by coming to a compromise, fights end up being just that – conflict that leads to both parties feeling frustrated and angry, oftentimes having said things in the heat of the moment that they’ve cause to regret upon reflection.

Why do we fight?

The purpose of any kind of disagreement is to come to a resolution, to result in some kind of change. However, our human nature steps in when we get upset, and so our first instinct is to defend, rather than to listen, reflect, and then respond accordingly.

Transactional Analysis (TA)

TA is a theory that aims to explain behaviour and relationships based on early-life experiences, and it outlines three separate personas or ego states from which we engage when we get into conflicty situations;

The Parent persona tends to mimic those behaviours observed by the child in the parent during their upbringing. They tend to be more authoritarian and less flexible in their stances.

The Child ego state refers to behaviours replayed from childhood, and reactions that range from withdrawal to stubborn refusal to negotiate.

By contrast, the ideal state, the Adult, functions in the ‘here and now’ according to each unique situation.

Of course, acting in a way that is totally independent of our childhood experiences is incredibly difficult, because these experiences shaped who we are. So one piece of advice I always share is to take a timeout when emotions start running high, a little break where there is an opportunity to regroup, rethink and consider the situation from a place that isn’t totally controlled by emotion. The emotional center of the brain cannot function when the logical part is, so engaging in activities to activate this part is a great idea when it comes to taking a timeout – things like reciting the alphabet backwards, which requires focus. Emotions should start to abate, leaving space for a more objective view of things.

Having a good understanding of which ego state your partner is coming from when in a conflict situation can give you insight into processing their reactions better and responding to them more appropriately. This in turn will lead to them reevaluating their own responses and adapting accordingly. An ideal scenario is one where each party resolves to be present in the moment, listen actively, reflect and propose a solution to the presenting problem. If you require assistance with managing your arguments, contact me to make an appointment