The One Move That Ends Our Marital Spats

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Recently, at a family member’s wedding, about an hour before go-time the women gathered around the bride and were asked to share a piece of advice or some words of wisdom. Pressure! Of course I wanted to offer something witty and clever, a nugget of gold that all the women would find deeply profound. One thing did come to mind, but I wasn’t sure if I should share it because it’s a little… well… unorthodox.

Let me back up.

Before my now-husband Isaac and I got married, we went to therapy. Actually, even before we got engaged we went to therapy. A lot of people think this is weird, since we tend to think of couples’ therapy as something to turn to after marriage, once the honeymoon phase is dead and gone. But I’m the daughter of a therapist, so in my family we are all very pro-therapy and don’t see counseling as something reserved for crisis scenarios. Anyway, as Isaac and I saw it, we had something special and wanted to make sure that our own respective deal-breakers wouldn’t actually break the deal.

Around the time of our engagement, our therapist introduced us to a tool that he thought needed to be part of our toolkit: the Six-Second Hug. Whenever we were fighting, no matter the scale, we were supposed to stop in the middle of everything and silently hug for six seconds. Honestly, I couldn’t envision quite how this would work, but he said that as we felt our anger escalate, we should move in on each other, wrap arms, and count (I envisioned us going “one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi…” in unison and wanted to barf). After the six seconds we were then free to continue the conversation (aka fighting) right where we left off. Our therapist emphasized that the hug had to be six seconds, since something chemically changes in the body during this time. I don’t understand science, but so be it.

By the time we left therapy that day, my husband was oddly and adorably excited to try the hug. I, however, was rolling my eyes because everyone knows hugging is the last thing you want to do when you’re fighting.

Soon enough, we had our first fight since the therapy session. I can’t remember what we were arguing about, but chances are it was something regarding our Closet of Chaos (a story for another time, but let’s just say there’s one closet in our home that represents everything unkempt about our lives– in the form of old photos, board games, and fondue pots we’d never use). Isaac smiled, ready to try our forced embrace. I obliged. Or rather, I let him put his arms around my midsection while I stood there with wet noodle arms, counting aloud in a drab monotone “one-Mississippi…two-Mississippi…” But Isaac was really giving it his all so I offered a minor squeeze in return, and, guys, I have to tell you: THE SIX-SECOND HUG WORKS. Immediately my shoulders relaxed, my head kinda leaned on Isaac’s shoulder, and I found myself picturing his face and wondering how I could be so angry.

Whatever about science (I told you, I don’t understand it), but hugging for six seconds does change the dynamic. It reminds you that you love this person, that you’re fundamentally on the same side, that you’ve been here before and that you will be again. No, the hug isn’t so magical that you’re going to suddenly exclaim “Wow! I am so sorry. You’re right, I can’t believe I didn’t see it from your perspective!” But when you force the physical connection and the body can relax a little, you end up treating each other more kindly. Post-hug, I usually care a little less about being right and a little more about how to use the exchange as a learning moment. Frankly, I’m often relieved to have an exit strategy from a stupid argument.

So now the SSH is part of our relationship. We don’t use it in every fight, but we use it a lot, especially when we’re having the kind of argument that we both know is going nowhere fast. Isaac’s usually the one to initiate it; I can always tell when he’s about to unleash it because he has an almost mischievous, knowing smirk. Granted I’m not always thrilled to stop in the middle of plowing through my list of his wrongdoings and hug it out. But I do it, even with heels dragging, and try to put some structured love into my arms at the very least.

Nugget of gold? I still don’t know about that. But I did end up sharing this piece of advice that day at the wedding. I’m not sure if anyone has made it their own (yet!), but it does bring me immense joy to imagine all these women fanned out across the country, hugging it out with their partners with reckless abandon. For six seconds at a time.

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Abbe Feder is an actress, producer, and founder of InCircle Fertility in Los Angeles. She is married to filmmaker Isaac Feder. Hear more about their epic love story and journey to parenthood on their podcast Maculate Conception, and see their craziness unfold on Instagram @abbefeder.