This article is part of our Why Couples Fight Series
Yes, I mean Autopsy. Let's assume Dick and Jane had a marital fight which started on February 13th at 1:06 pm. There was the usual Groundhog Day back and forth that resulted in mutual escalation until 5:11, after which Dick and Jane took an hour break, calmed down, had an early dinner, and then engaged in an autopsy of their fight.
Please understand that there is not a single model of couples therapy that uses the phrase "marital fight autopsy." This is my own perverse distinction.
I like the phrase, however, for one reason. If we are going to acquire skill in having a meta-conversation, let's first agree that the fight must be dead, even if the issues may be very much alive.
The notion of "discussing" a fight, instead of discussing an issue is a novel one in Couples Therapy.
The biggest danger in discussing a fight is to have the conversation sputter into a "Franken-Fight" where it "rises from the dead" and springs robustly back to life. You want to talk about the fight, not re-engage in it.
Here's one way to look at it: Image being the audience at a dramatic play. The two people on the stage are mere specks, while you are both sitting on the balcony, looking down.
This is what's needed for a good fight autopsy.
A meta-conversation is when a couple discusses how their past fights have evolved, paying particular attention to how they treated each other during that heated fight. Meta originally comes from Greek and means “higher” or “above."
Meta-conversations are a critical skill in marital repair. It's the best method to process and analyze the fight without re-activating it all over again. It is a skill we teach during our Couples Therapy Intensives, and this skill can be life changing!
It requires poise, calm, self-regulation, and a degree of emotional distance as you both conversationally hover over the details of the past incident. In other words... an autopsy.
It can also help if each of you have some memory about how your parents or early caretakers (your first teachers on relationships) fought. Are you mimicking one of them? Doing the polar opposite?
The goal of a marital fight autopsy is as ambitious as it is singular; greater mutual understanding.
You must both be willing to discuss exactly how the fight evolved, without reviving it. Make sure you are both calmly committed to the autopsy process in order to increase your chances of success. Timing is also important. You can't autopsy a fight you're actively still hot about.
Remember there are two realities.
Perception is everything. Feelings are not facts, but it's a fact that you both had powerful feelings. Don't try to find objective reality. It won't help to "find the bad guy."
In future posts, I will be discussing how other models of couples therapy approach Marital Fight Autopsies.
The Gottman Method is a particularly thoughtful and useful approach.
How to Do the Five Steps Above:
Call us for more information 844-926-8753 to reach our Intake Coordinator, Cindy, use option 2.
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts, three seasons in Cummington (at the foothills of the Berkshires...) and in Miami during joint retreats with his wife, Dr. Kathy McMahon. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.