How to Turn Destructive Arguments Into Intimacy


I know that one of the number one things women like or need or crave in a marriage is to feel safe, connected, protected, and like they’re on a team with their husband. In this post I’m going to talk about one of the most exciting things that I have ever developed and is giving amazing results for my clients. So, if you want to learn how to transform your arguments into intimacy, keep on reading, and for goodness sakes, please put it into practice!

This is powerful. If you can master this technique (it’s only a two step process) you are going to go the distance in your relationship. This is so life changing. Have I raved about it enough yet? Okay cool.

The Intimacy InterventionThis tool that I developed myself, is called The Intimacy Intervention. I actually just received an email today from a client who was saying, “Oh, my gosh, Janna. This is working miracles in my marriage. I’ve been doing years of therapy and this is changing things for me. It’s describing communication and how to use communication in ways I’ve never experienced.” It so, so works.

I am going to use a very real and raw argument that my husband and I had the other night that continued into the following morning. Luckily we have this tool, so we transformed it into intimacy, but it’s about a topic that is a growing edge for us. For the most part, in the 17 years we’ve been married, we’ve been able to tackle most big things (sex being the biggest thing we’ve ever dealt with, and now it is so nice not to have that be an issue), but money is something that both of us really struggle with. Money for me, represents safety. I like to think that I’m a saver, so usually, savers like to have a nice contingency fund, no debt, just a clear budget, planning for the future and retirement. And if that’s you, you’re probably nodding your head.

For people who are more like spenders, money represents freedom and enjoyment and excitement. What can they buy with it? What can it exchange for them? What kind of adventure can they go on? That is my husband. That’s what money represents for him. So, you can imagine a saver and a spender, safety and excitement. It’s a little hard to figure things out. If that’s you in your marriage, well… good luck to you (haha). But I hope that this tool helps you!

I’m going to go through the process of a regular argument and what my husband and I went through the other night (and recovered from… whew) just to give you a clear example.

The Trigger​

It always starts with a trigger. This is something that your partner does or says that creates a negative emotion in you, such as anger, rage, or defensiveness. In my case, my husband came into the bedroom (I was super exhausted, by the way), and he said, “I would like to buy a new car.” Not a brand new car, but just a new car. Suddenly I had a negative emotion. I felt fear, because again, money represents safety to me, but mostly I just felt angry. I felt like my husband had thrown me under the bus, had not cared about my needs, and wasn’t respecting our desire to save for a house or plan for retirement or anything. I just suddenly felt like it was very, very unsafe and scary to be with him.

The Reaction

Generally speaking, you’re going to have that fight or flight response, which gets me to the next stage in the typical cycle of an argument which is reaction. What are you doing then, once you’ve had that negative emotion? For me, it’s generally yelling. Usually everyone has a flavour of reaction; the two most common ones being yelling and arguing, or shutting down and being quiet. Guess what happened when I started to yell at my husband? I know. It’s hard to believe this sweet thing can yell, but I did. And it triggered him. Then it becomes a new cycle.

Boom, right down to negative emotion again… and his flavour, in this moment, was defensiveness. Then he had a reaction, and his voice started to get louder. He started to list all the things and partly blaming and criticizing. “Well, you’re not that great with money. And you did the X, Y, and Z.” And… guess what… now it’s a trigger for me. You can see how this will go on and on and on. That’s why when you have a lot of arguments, a lot of couples will say, “I don’t even know what began. I can’t even remember what we were arguing about” because it has nothing to do with what you were arguing about. It has everything to do with the next stage.

The Interpretation​

What you’re seeing is: trigger, negative emotion, reaction, trigger, negative emotion, reaction. But there’s a sneaky little thing going on here, something your brain is doing, which is the interpretation. For example, in my case, my husband came into our bedroom and said, “I’d like to buy a new car.” My interpretation of that was, “you don’t care about me”, because again, me and money are about safety, and if you’re going to spend money, you’re basically making it really unsafe for me to be in this relationship, and I have no control over it which feels super, super scary.

It’s all about the interpretation. The interpretation is what leads to the negative emotion, the reaction, the trigger, negative emotion, and reaction. It becomes really critical for you to be able to figure out what your interpretation is. Some common interpretations are, “I’m not important to you, I’m not a priority, no matter what I do it’s never enough, I’m not enough for you, you don’t care about me, you don’t love me, I’m not safe with you, I’m being abandoned.”

The idea is to realize… okay, we’re human. We’re going to have triggers. Okay, we’re human, we’re going to have negative emotions, but we want to avoid the reaction. That is the red zone. You don’t want to go there. No reaction. Instead, you want to stop it there, (you’ll see the big black stop line on the diagram) and you want to employ The Intimacy Intervention. Ba-ba-da-daaaa! And yes… I actually use this in my marriage. This isn’t some theoretical garbly goop that I read in a book and now I’m just kind of puking over onto you and we’re all just going have all this theoretical stuff, because I hate that. No. I use this. I used this the morning our argument continued, thankfully.

What ended up happening was, my husband was in the shower and I was sitting on the bathroom floor (as you do with these heated discussions), and I thought, “What is the interpretation I’m having?” That’s where you’ve got to go. What’s going on here? And I thought, “Okay, money’s about safety for me and I’m feeling like he doesn’t care about my desire to feel protected and safe. He’s literally (I’m going to say it again because it was how it felt) throwing me under the bus. He’s just all, ‘okay, see you later. Things are more important than you'”, which hurts, I can tell you.

But it’s my interpretation. This is my brain. So, step one of The Intimacy Intervention… you figure out your interpretation. Very, very critical. I spend a lot of time with couples here. If you have a hard time, let’s work together, because it’s very hard sometimes to get out of your own head.

The Vulnerable Question​

So you figure out your interpretation, and you share it with your spouse. It feels really awkward at first, but you do it. You say, “Huh, I think I just interpreted what you said or did to mean that you don’t care about me.” Next step, step two of the Intimacy Intervention, is to ask the vulnerable question. The vulnerable question is easy once you have figured out your interpretation. It’s just flipped around. If your interpretation was, “I’m not important to my husband or spouse”, then the vulnerable question would be, “am I important to you?”. If your interpretation was, “I can never do enough”, then the vulnerable question is, “am I enough for you? Just as I am, messy parts and all?”

The tricky part about this, is that asking the vulnerable question can become a trigger for your spouse. They might think, “well, of course you’re important to me! Look at all the things I do to show that you’re important to me! What do you mean?!” And it triggers them because now they’re making an interpretation that they’re not enough. Trigger, negative emotion, reaction. Sometimes doing this feels like you’re fighting for your marriage. And it is, I often will say, a battle against your own ego. It’s not a battle against your spouse.

Ask the vulnerable question, and then if your spouse reacts positively… “yes, of course you’re important to me!” Or, “I deeply care about you”, Or ,”yes, you’re enough, all the little pieces, even the pieces that I don’t love all that much, I still like all of you, the whole of you”… well damn. That feels good. It just feels good to have that. It is truly my absolute pleasure to be able to witness this in session with couples. The walls go down, the fog is lifted, and suddenly there are just two vulnerable people who just want to be loved and cared for and seen and protected and desired and admired. Men are desired and admired and women are connected and protected. I just came up with that the other morning as I was curling my hair in the bathroom. So, good job for me. It’s all about the rhyming, folks!

Try It For Yourself!​

Please, go and try this in your marriage. Try it today, because I guarantee you will be triggered at some point in this day. It just happens that frequently. My challenge to you is to identify your interpretation. It’s not easy. But if you can nail it and really figure out what you’re interpreting, you are golden, and you can transform your potentially disastrous arguments. Arguments aren’t just kind of an annoying thing, they can cause so much damage, and lead to that negative spiral in your relationship that takes so long to repair. So for goodness sakes, just skip all that, and have connection instead! It’s not about shoving your feelings down. It’s not about talking about the real thing.

For goodness sakes, this is the real thing. That’s why you have patterns and arguments in your relationship that go on and on and on. If you try this, or if you’re thinking right now, “that sounds hard”, it’s because it is hard. Especially if you’re just so used to this pattern in your life. I do work with couples, so please send me an email: janna@jannadentonhowes.com, and I hope that I can work with you guys. You may have to go on the waiting list, but it’s worth it. I promise!

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  1. Sarah says:

    This makes a lot of sense! What should you do if you ask the vulnerable question and you DON’T get a positive response ???? or a backtracking response like “of course i love you, BUT…”

    • Janna says:

      This is the scary thing about intimacy… it’s always a bit of a risk. If this happens, take a deep breath and remind yourself that your spouse is just in their OWN interpretations. They aren’t trying to hurt you- they are just feeling defensive. Try repeating in your head “pain, pain, pain” so that you are reminding your brain it’s HURT you are feeling so you don’t go into reaction and start that crazy cycle all over again. Depending on the situation, you can stay in the conversation and continue to stay open and vulnerable or you might need a break to comfort yourself.

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