Relationship Threat Reduction by Dr Stan Tatkin

Things to remember about threat reduction:

  • Remember that communication is mostly bad between people. We are mostly misunderstanding each other much of the time and we don’t realize it.
  • We believe our perceptions and interpretations of our partner’s intentions, motives, and feelings are clear. Not so fast! We’re using lightning-fast recognition systems in the brain, based on memory, and threat cues. If our current state of mind is other than fully relaxed, safe, and secure, we may sense things in a very different manner.

Never try to argue with your partner’s perception of threat

  • It won’t work and you’ll simply appear more unfriendly. Their perception is reality. Therefore, error correct, apologize, or fix it fast. Learn to put fires out early and quickly.

Stay away from arguing about memory.

  • The further away you both are from the event (more than two hours), you are both probably wrong enough to just fix the misunderstanding or injury.

When interacting under stress or distress, go eye-to-eye in close proximity.

  • Our eyes only see in high definition up close and straight ahead. Sitting to the side, across the room, on the phone, or messaging will usually yield bad results. 
  • We’re visual animals and we error-correct information from other sensory inputs through the visual field.
  • The fear and threat centers of the brain become more activated when viewing faces at a glance or from the side.

When interacting under stress or distress, keep your eyes on your partner at all times.

  • This is a fast-moving situation. You are at a big disadvantage if you’re not paying close attention to your partner’s face and eyes when you talk. This allows you to remain in tune with your partner.

Take care of yourself and your partner at the same time.

  • Taking care of only yourself, your interests, your needs, your complaints, will cause your partner to do the same. You will then both square off, become adversarial, and…game over. You will both walk away with nothing except more frustration and threat memory.
    • “I know I disappoint you by not checking in. I wouldn’t like it either if the tables were turned. Let’s find a solution for next time that works for both of us.”
    • “Stop yelling at me. I shouldn’t yell at you either. I’m sorry I did. But please stop.”
    • Failing to keep your partner in mind while making your case for what you want or don’t want sends the message that you don’t care about your partner’s concerns and that will certainly blow back on you.

Lead with relief after your partner complains.

  • This is not about being polite, it’s just wise when faced with someone who considers you dangerous in the moment. Disarm your partner’s threat response by saying and/or doing something friendly. Agree, apologize, repair, reassure, or simply fall on your own sword before doing or saying anything further. Watch to see that your partner relaxes and returns to safety before proceeding. 

When interacting under stress or distress, move fast toward mutual relief, then take the matter off the table.

  • Trying to resolve a problem can often cause a bigger one. Holding each other while under stress for long periods will increase mutual threat and will be remembered. 
  • Learn to move faster when talking about stressful or distressing subjects. Keep your message concise. Don’t hold the stage very long and keep your partner waiting for their turn. Their blood pressure and heart rate will likely increase while waiting. 

No more long sit-downs about problems in your relationship.

  • Time spent under stress is costly. It’s bad for your health, and it’s a bad for the relationship. Move swiftly. Deal with one problem at a time and then shift activities. Tackle big problems by nibbling on them rather than doing long sit-downs and trying to swallow them whole.

When interacting under stress or distress, stick to one topic only.

  • No two people can, while under stress, handle more than one topic without going off the rails. You both must remain orderly or you’ll get nothing done. Get in and get out as fast as possible by repairing and coming up with a solution to prevent the same thing from occurring in the future. It’s a solution for now.

If fixing a problem, misunderstanding, hurt feeling, or other complaints concern you, make your repairs quickly and sincerely and then offer a solution for the next time (if it recurs). 

  • Make sure your partner is satisfied and move forward.
  • Work on the problem, not on each other.
    • Tackle problems together, as if working on a puzzle.
    • Avoid the tendency to work on each other –blaming, “what-about-isms,” bringing up the past, etc. It’s a tar pit and you’ll both get stuck.

Slow it down when arguing.

  • Error-correcting brain areas are slow and energy consuming. Go too fast and error rates for both of you will go way up.
  • Get too upset and those error-correcting brain areas will stop functioning until you both settle down.
  • The faster you both go, the more automatic and reflexive you’ll become.

Repair injuries, misunderstandings, and hurtful behaviors as quickly as possible.

  • This is perhaps the single most important item of the bunch. 
  • The time between injury and repair is critical! During that period, the relationship becomes more threatening as we not only stew and mentally rehearse the injuries, but the rupture also creates fear of abandonment.
  • If you can’t bring yourself to come back to your partner within 30-60 minutes and apologize (there’s always something for which we can apologize), then signal that despite feeling angry, “we’re okay.” 
  • For instance, going to bed angry is better if you at least maintain a light touch of the toes. It says, “Even though I may hate you right now, we’re okay.” That’s to maintain physical and mental health.