Dr. Julie Barrier Christian Blog and Commentary

Help to Heal Volatile Relationships

  • Julie Barrier

    Dr. Julie Barrier, along with her pastor-husband, Dr. Roger Barrier, have taught conferences on marriage and ministry in 35 countries. The Barriers are founders and directors of Preach It, Teach It…

  • 2016 Jun 24

All of us are stressed. Most of us are fearful. Why?

Volatile relationships! The word "volatile" means "liable to change rapidly and unpredictably, especially for the worse." You may be sitting next to a terrorist: not the radical kind, just the dysfunctional, abusive kind! Your child may be a "holy terror," holding your happy home hostage. Your co-worker may use inflammatory words, creating a hostile work environment. You may be in a turbulent, abusive marriage. You never know when you enter your front door if you will face an emotional explosion. The Latin word "volatilis" means "to fly." Do you "fly off the handle?" 

How do you identify a volatile person in a relationship?  

  • Unpredictable behavior
  • Highly-charged words
  • Impulsive decisions
  • Mercurial moods
  • Controlling others

You can diffuse a volatile situation.

Dr. Chet Weld, marriage counselor relates: "I specialize in marriage counseling. Couples often come to me thinking the hostility they hold is irreconcilable. Of course, each partner is hurting, and they've not asked for help in such a long time that negative marriage patterns seem immovable. Fortunately, they're usually not immovable at all!"   

You can diffuse the bomb and repair the damage.

Here are some guidelines to re-build trust and stability in a volatile relationship:  

  • Do not allow yourself to feel like a victim.
  • Ask yourself, “What trauma is being triggered or ‘re-stimulated?”  Take responsibility for letting the trauma be triggered.
  • Recognize your own inner conflict.
  • Own your own individual issue.
  • Learn new communication and other skills in order to stop old patterns.
  • Give up on the idea that your partner or friend can meet any unmet needs of childhood.
  • If there is drug or alcohol abuse, this issue needs to be solved prior to resolving relationship issues.
  • Admit your fears beneath your anger.
  • Learn to self-soothe.
  • Admit that your partner or friend can help with large matters such as the death of a parent, but cannot usually help with smaller, every day concerns.
  • Accept that you are each imperfect.
  • Tell each other your good intentions.
  • Look at the impact of your family-of-origin on your own reactions.
  • Avoid blame, withdrawal, resentful compliance, whining.
  • Avoid long explanations and justifications.  Just say “ouch” or “I’m getting defensive.”
  • Ask, “What would you like to hear right now?”
  • Soothe the pain rapidly – “I am sorry I hurt you.”
  • Take turns as speaker or listener.  Ask each other questions.  Postpone persuasion. 
  • Dialogue must replace the four horsemen that lead to relational suicide.
  • Spend more time on solvable problems than on perpetual ones.
  • Talk about each other’s dreams.

Dr. Weld encourages healthy dialogue. 

"Here are good some good topics of discussion to help you talk to your fiery friend or spouse in “normal tones” about understanding them and resolving conflict.  Of course, it’s important for each of you to take turns listening and talking.  Sometimes 10-20 minutes apiece – without interruption – is what’s required." 

  • What do you feel about this issue?
  • What do you believe about it?
  • What’s the story behind it?  
  • Can you relate to the other person’s background in some way? 
  • What do you need, as illustrated by this issue?
  • Tell me why this is so important to you?
  • What would be your ideal dream?
  • Is there a fear in not having the dream?
  • Is there a deeper purpose or goal inside of either of you?

Draw two concentric circles.  What are the issues you can’t give up?  Write these down in middle.   Outside circle: What you’re flexible about.  

Recommended reading:

The Dance of Anger, by Harriet Lerner 

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, by John M. Gottman and Nan Silver 

Boundaries in Marriage, by Henry Cloud, John Townsend, John Sims Townsend

Also included: Dr. Ellyn Bader, Dr. Julie Gottman's research at the Milton Erickson Conference, April 2, 2011. 

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