How one husband transformed his marriage from a storm of conflict into a refuge of healing!

Debbie said she had only one problem in her marriage! It was her husband, Will!

‘Our counselor told us Will has to work on himself before we can ever have a healthy relationship!’

Debbie and Will were in a storm of conflict and she was blaming it all on him.

Will had ‘anger issues‘ so in Debbie’s eyes he was 100% to blame for their problems. He got labeled by their prior counselor as the ‘bad spouse’ and she was the ‘good spouse’.

But we soon discovered that Debbie’s fear of intimacy was preventing her from connecting with Will. And her withdrawal from him during times of conflict was activating Will’s childhood feelings of rejection. That’s when he would react with  outbursts of anger.

His anger, in turn, made her feel smothered until she would then blow up. And the raging storm of conflict continued!

In a storm of conflict like this, the problem is not you or your partner, it’s the ‘space-between’.


Their problem wasn’t Will. And it wasn’t Debbie.

It was ‘the space between’!

The ‘space between’ them was filled with negativity, making the relationship unsafe. Both were adding to that negativity in their own way. Will by his uncontrolled anger. Debbie by her fear of intimacy, retreating, and then blowing up.

An intimate partnership is not just two individuals interacting. It’s two people plus the ‘space between’ them.

A marriage relationship is like the physical universe in two ways: (1) everything is connected, and (2) the space between planets is not just empty space. There are massive energy fields at work to hold everything together.

In the same way, you and your partner are connected, and the space between you is not just empty space.

The space between you is filled with either positive or negative energy. And that’s what determines the quality of your relationship and your life. Whatever you put into that space has the power to shape and change your lives more than any other force.

So, to fix your relationship, you can’t just fix your partner or fix yourself. You have to fix the ‘space between’.

Filling the space between with positive energy makes it safe to reconnect. And when you reconnect all the problems you want to solve actually dissolve.

That’s when the storm of conflict can be transformed into a refuge of healing.

Here are three powerful steps Will took to turn their marriage from a storm of conflict into a refuge of healing.

1. Commit to Zero Negativity

If there is ANY negativity in the space between you in the form of criticism, judgement, an eye roll, or even going silent when your partner is overreacting, the relationship will not feel safe to either of you.  And negativity will always keep you from connecting with each other.

So make a commitment to eliminate ALL negativity in the space between. Then, when you slip up, repair it immediately so you don’t fall back into the same old pattern of allowing negativity into the space between.

Debbie could NOT stop her negative reactions, but Will tried hard to stick to it even when things turned ugly.

As Will continued to refrain from any put downs, the space between began to slowly change.

Will was demonstrating how one partner can change the dynamics of the relationship with a zero negativity commitment. Click on the link to download the tool.

2. Share 3 ‘Appreciations’ with your partner every day.

The way to get beyond the one negative thing you’re stuck on about your partner is to point out the myriad of things that are positive.

What you focus on is what you will get.

If you focus on what your partner does wrong all the neural pathways of anger and fear will continue to get reinforced. Then the accompanying neurochemicals of cortisol and adrenaline – the neurochemicals of fear and anxiety flood your system giving fuel to the storm of conflict.

But if you focus on your partner’s positive qualities your brain releases the pleasure neurochemicals of dopamine, endorphins, and oxytocin – neurochemicals of pleasure that make you feel safe, wonderful, and alive.

Recent discoveries about the brain have given us new hope that we can change our way of relating and turn that storm of conflict into a refuge of healing.

Turns out our brains are’ plastic’. This means that we can reshape our neural pathways. By choosing what you think about, you have the power to change your own brain and your feelings as well.

The more we bring these appreciations into the ‘space between’, the more neurochemicals of well-being, wonder, and full-aliveness are released. And the more the space between is filled with positive energy and safety. Click here to download the Appreciation Tool.

3. Use Safe Conversation skills

Eliminating negativity doesn’t mean you don’t deal with negative issues.

You have to talk about negative things, but you can do it in a positive way, keeping the space between you a negativity-free zone.

Safe Conversations skills (aka The Couple’s Dialogue) can help you talk without put downs.

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it that makes it positive or negative.

The Couple’s Dialogue will help you slow down and mirror (listening to 100% of what your partner is saying), validate (letting your partner know she or he makes sense), and empathize (feeling what your partner feels). Click here to download this tool.

Will used these skills trying make it safe for Debbie, but it seemed to only escalate her anger.

Debbie began accusing Will of things that simply ‘were not true’.

It seemed like they would never catch a break from this storm of conflict.

But a miracle happened as Will continued to regulate his own reactions by mirroring Debbie as she shared her feelings.

Even though her accusations were unfair, and her feelings seemed unwarranted, Will continued to mirror, validate, and empathize with her until he literally dissolved all her criticism and negativity!

That was a breakthrough! Why?

Criticisms are simply a wish in disguise.

Behind all Debbie’s hateful words and wrongful accusations was a hidden desire to be connected with Will.

When it became safe for her to reconnect with him, all those criticisms melted away.

When you make it safe for your partner to share ANYTHING, you can dissolve all their criticism, and melt all their accusations.

Isn’t that better than defending yourself and trying to prove your partner wrong?

What about you and your partner? Are you in a storm of conflict?

  • Get rid of ALL negativity.
  • Share 3 appreciations with your partner each day.
  • Use Safe Conversation skills to share your frustrations.

And you can quell that storm of conflict and transform your marriage into a refuge of healing!

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    How a husband’s destructive anger was transformed into passionate love

    ‘My husband’s destructive anger is wrecking our family! I can’t deal with his abuse any longer!’

    Tears filled Gina’s eyes as she explained what her husband Gary’s anger was doing to her.

    This began a 7 step journey that transformed Gary’s destructive anger into passionate love.

    Recently, in an argument over how to deal with one of their children, Gary blew up at Gina and put his fist through the wall.

    Gary had not previously been physically violent toward Gina or their three children. But there were repeated times of yelling and name-calling.

    And now Gary had literally hit the wall. Where was it going to end?

    Gina was not only concerned for her own safety, but was really afraid of what this anger would do to their kids.

    In our first session, we began a structured dialogue that helped Gary and Gina take seven steps toward dealing with abusive anger.

    1. Set a boundary against uncontrolled anger.

    It was very important for Gina to say to Gary that uncontrolled anger is not ok. Gina must realize she does not have to tolerate it, and must be empowered to leave the abusive situation in any way necessary. This may include getting a restraining order.

    There are cases of emotional and physical abuse where the first step is for the victim to separate from the abusive partner and get professional help.

    Gina communicated this boundary in a Dialogue where Gary mirrored and validated her concern.

    It was very important that this boundary be communicated to Gary in a safe way. The Couples Dialogue helped him receive and accept it rather than feel judged by it.

    In Gary’s case, he was ready to get help, and fully accepted Gina’s boundary.

    For Gary and Gina, this act of violence was a wake up call to get help.

    Both of them were eagerly seeking change.

    They invited me to continue to facilitate this process of transforming anger into passionate love.

    2. Commit to “zero negativity”.

    After setting a boundary against violence, Gary and Gina agreed to sign the Zero Negativity Challenge.

    This is a pledge to stop all negative comments, criticisms, and uncontrolled expressions of anger.

    It is something I ask all my clients to sign whether violent anger is an issue or not.

    Because nothing can happen in a relationship unless it is safe.

    And it will never be safe if the tiniest bit of negativity is allowed in the space between the couple.

    Negativity in a relationship is like putting a drop of raw sewage into a glass of pure drinking water.

    Would you drink it even if I assured you it contained only a drop of sewage? 🙂

    Of course not! Because, even with a drop of bacteria infested sewage, it’s no longer safe to drink.

    In the same way, when a drop of criticism or unbridled anger is deposited into the space between a couple, it’s no longer safe to for either partner to open up to each other.

    Going forward Gary and Gina weren’t perfect, but this commitment to zero negativity was a good start down the right path.

    3. Avoid assigning labels to each other.

    “My partner is abusive!”
    ‘My husband is a narcissist!’
    ‘My wife has Borderline Personality Disorder!’

    Labeling like this produces enough negative energy to keep a person permanently bound in the role assigned to them.

    People live up to what we say about them.

    It’s important to drop the labels.

    And here’s another reason why.

    Gary and Gina are just two partners doing the best they can to manage their anxiety.

    What do you mean?

    When couples feel disconnected, the result is always anxiety.

    The human mind cannot handle anxiety for more than a few seconds. To cope we turn it into either anger or depression.

    So most people are not what we tend to label them. They’re just trying to manage their anxiety the best they can. Obviously some better than others.

    Of course there are true narcissists and there are violent aggressors that are unsafe people period.
    But in many cases where a someone claims their partner is a narcissist, it is a label unfairly assigned.

    During the Dialogue process, we often find that the “so-called narcissist” is perfectly capable of empathizing with his or her partner. It’s just that the relationship had never been safe enough for that to happen.

    We are all self-absorbed until we experience differentiation in our relationship.

    It’s the growth challenge of marriage that changes us from self-absorbed individuals into differentiated individuals capable of intimate connection.

    In many cases people are self-absorbed because they’ve never stepped up to the ‘growth challenge’ that every marriage presents.

    Therefore it’s important not to label.

    The Couples Dialogue process helps you reimage your partner as someone who is simply trying to manage their own anxiety the best they can.

    Some do it by exploding anger outwardly. Others by internalizing anger and becoming depressed.

    4. Listen to anger’s ‘cry for help”.

    As Gina mirrored Gary’s angry feelings, she learned that his anger was a cover for deeper emotions he was experiencing.

    Usually anger is not about what you say it’s about. It’s a way to protect yourself from your more vulnerable feelings.

    Like the tip of an iceberg, anger can be used to cover deeper emotions that we my not be conscious of.


    Gina and Gary’s big blow up was not really about differences over child discipline. It was about Gary not feeling important in the process.

    And at the very core was Gary’s hidden fear of losing his connection with Gina.

    As a child, Gary experienced feelings of abandonment from his early caretakers. Unknowingly, he had brought these wounds into his marriage.

    When he felt Gina withdrawing from him, his deep fear of abandonment was triggered.

    In an unconscious reaction he would then use anger to mask these feelings of abandonment.

    This in turn caused Gina to move even further from Gary.

    But Chuck, that doesn’t make sense. If Gary wanted to be connected with Gina, why would he yell and punch the wall?

    Why do kids throw temper tantrums?

    To get the attention of the parent they fear won’t be available to them when they need it most.

    Gary was doing an ‘adult version’ of this kind of behavior.

    So how does Gina ‘listen to anger’s cry for help’ and begin to understand Gary’s real emotion behind anger?

    It was through the structured Couples Dialogue that Gina felt safe enough to listen and validate Gary.

    And in the context of that safety, Gary got in touch with the fear of abandonment that was driving his explosive anger.

    And then, as we’ll see later, things went even deeper…

    5. Stay present rather than retreating.

    As Gina stayed present and listened to Gary, this had a powerful calming effect on him.

    It was Gina’s withdrawal that triggered the fear and anger in Gary.

    Most every day we walk our dog, Brie, in the neighborhood. There is a cat about a block away that Brie loves to chase. It goes like this.

    The cat sees Brie and takes off. When Brie sees the cat take off, she begins pursuit until she reaches the end of her leash. And then it’s all we can do to hold her back. We should have gone to dog training school.

    One day the cat saw Brie, and instead of running, he sat down in the driveway and began licking his paw.

    Brie was really troubled. And stood perfectly still. Why?

    We discovered that Brie will only chase if the cat retreats. If the cat doesn’t run, Brie waits.

    In the same way, Gina’s running away was one of the triggers for Gary to pursue her in anger.

    A dramatic change occurred when she remained present for Gary. His anger was diffused and he was able to express his fear in a safe dialogue.

    Gina was able to empathize with Gary’s feeling of abandonment, and that was when everything changed.

    Continuing to be curious in the Dialogue, Gina found out Gary’s hidden fear.

    Recently she had became more involved in her work as a school teacher. This meant more social engagement with her coworkers as well.

    As Gary saw her having fun with people that had more in common with her than he did, Gary feared that one day she wouldn’t need him and would leave him for good.

    So the anger wasn’t about the differences they had in parenting. It was about Gary’s deep fear of being left alone.

    Very often the problem you’re arguing about is not the problem. It goes much deeper.

    Both Gina and Gary got in touch with the real issue which was Gary’s hidden fear.

    This happened because Gina stayed present and curious in the process.

    6. Use your anger as a signal to stop and dialogue.

    The Couples Dialogue slows things down, enabling you to talk about your anger rather than exploding it.

    Anger does not have to be unhealthy. It doesn’t have to turn into destructive aggression.

    Anger can be an incredibly useful emotion.

    Anger serves as a stoplight – a signal that something is not right and you need to STOP.


    Gary learned to recognize when he was angry by noticing the sensations in his body.

    Sensations like a tensed body, clenched teeth, restlessness, or increased intensity of speech were the cues that helped him realize he was angry.

    If we can recognize anger before it’s expressed, it can be a signal to stop and use our safe conversation skills to talk about it.

    If we heed anger’s warning, it’s possible to return to love and connection. If we ignore its warning, our relationship will suffer.

    It’s a choice we have to make.

    7. Channel anger’s energy into passionate love.

    Anger and passionate love are opposite expressions of the same energy.

    When anger’s negative energy gets redirected in a safe conversation it transforms into passionate love.

    Gary took steps to moderate his anger, by talking it out rather than acting it out.

    Gina stretched in order to be present with Gary rather than withdrawing and triggering his feelings of abandonment.

    What happened as a result?

    Anger was transformed into passionate love.

    I saw evidence of this in the parking lot of my office after our last session as Gary and Gina stood by their car for what seemed like forever in a passionate hug and prolonged kiss.

    As people watched them, I thought, “They have no idea what’s behind this. If they only knew…”

    Gary and Gina not only learned to deal with destructive anger, but all of their feelings of love and passion returned.

    That’s because anger’s negative energy can be channeled in the opposite direction. And passionate love can be reborn.

    It can happen for you as well. If you need help, I can take you through the same process that Gary and Gina went through. Here’s more info.

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