A clearing of the air, handled well, can make a relationship strong. Without it, the temptation to settle for ‘good enough’ will be death to excitement. Yet many people avoid conflict like the plague24-02-2010
The honeymoon is a time of happy adaptation as each partner focuses on the delight of the other. Then comes the day when the little foible you found so attractive drives you mad and you blurt out irritation. It feels like the end of the world, when in fact it’s the beginning of the true journey of partnership.
Feeling irritated with each other is par for the course. It doesn’t make either of you wrong, it just means the adjustment is a little more taxing as you look for ways of relating that suit you both.
So a few pointers:
You will want to blame your partner in order to confirm you’re right. This feels so good, but adds little value - either they have to defend themselves which fuels the fight or they’ll believe you and see themselves as bad, both of which are highly unproductive. The truth is, you are responsible for your own reactions - no one can make you feel anything unless you want to. So rather than saying “you make me feel” try “when you behave this way, I feel......”. This provides your partner with information about their impact – so they have the choice to change - while accepting that you also have some responsibility for the problem.
You might fancy a sulk – it feels wonderfully superior and virtuous – “they’ll soon see just how awful they have been and how upset I am!” That is, if they even notice – they might just be relieved that Armageddon has blown over and the world has gone quiet! Never rely on another person intuiting how you feel or knowing what your problem is. Much better to be open, so you can both take positive action.
Most arguments go through a number of phases. Recognising the pattern means you can get better at it, moving to positive ‘make up’ sooner.
Stage one – clearing the air
When a situation or behaviour causes frustration, feelings begin to run high. So the first stage can be pretty irrational and heated. This is the bit we recognise as ‘a row’ and would much prefer to avoid. Some dislike it so much that they go direct to sulk or just give in for a quiet life.
Giving in just pushes the anger underground, where it hovers until the next trigger sets it off again. Much better to stick with it first time round – then the backlog is small and manageable. Before long, the storm will abate and you can both take a breather while you work out what the real problem is.
Because what we see as the main event is actually just the attention grabber as the curtain rises. No two people can live together in constant harmony. And unless they sort out differences in a positive way, the emotional overload will be a constant threat to longevity.
So clear the air, then go onto the real meat of sorting out what the problem really is.
Step Two – straight talking
Now you’ve taken the heat out of it, there is chance to talk about what’s really bothering you both.
Jane and Peter snapped regularly about who did the washing up. They could spend hours rerunning who did what, building shed loads of righteous indignation. On one level it was quite satisfying, but in reality they were tearing each other apart. Some straight talking highlighted that Jane saw help with the house as a sign that Peter cared for her, while he thought he was caring for her already in all sorts of ways. So the real issue was affirming their love - nothing to do with dirty pots!
It sounds frivolous, but loads of arguments are about the small things - generally a clue that something deeper is going on. So step two is the moment to be honest with yourself – and then honest with your partner about what you are really missing and what you need. Even if it sounds silly – take the risk of being straight forward. It will cut down the arguing time and move you towards make up time.
Step three – what next?
Never leave the scene of a row without working out what you need to do differently next time.
Jane and Peter realised they needed more time together away from work and the chores to feel close and enjoy each other’s company. They agreed to buy a dishwasher and sort out plans for who did what. They also each made a mental note to appreciate the small gifts of time and action the other gave them.
If the argument is about apparently innocuous things, then agree actions on two levels – the practical and the emotional. If you focus only the practical, the problem will just shift onto something different. Think about the needs of your partner – and yourself – and you will very quickly take the emphasis off the dishes.
Step four - appreciate your achievement
Take some time to enjoy your success – a blow up that results in greater understanding and positive action is a real win! Inevitably it will happen again and each time you will learn more about each other, grow stronger and have greater chance of survival.
So celebrate the fruits of your labour and when the next storm arrives, start all over again!
Warning note: you may find there is a recurring theme in your relationship. Most couples have one, so don’t worry – just keep going with it. Think of it as the curriculum that is teaching you about your relationship. Each time you address it, you become a little closer, learning more about your partner and yourself. In time you will reach a point where you can let it go without feeling resentful. Until then, you just have to keep working with the next bit of the syllabus.
Judith had a 20 year career as a psychotherapist before turning her hand to business where she helped top companies turn around their fortunes by building the all important relationships that deliver results. So, if you feel you’re at a crossroads in your life – work, love, relationships, empty nest or leaving home for the first time – you’re at that ‘life change’ point. Then that’s when you need Judith.www.changeexpert.tv
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