The success or failure of personal relationships isn’t determined by the absence or presence of struggle. Because life is sometimes painful and complicated, all long-term romantic relationships are subjected to difficult situations from time to time.
When we deal with these struggles from a place of love, we move the relationship in a healthy direction. When we respond with defensiveness, contempt, criticism or stonewalling (Gottman refers to these as “The Four Horsemen of the Relationship Apocolypse”) we damage our connection to the person we love.
We’ve all been in arguments and felt frustrated, hurt, or angry. It’s not easy, but even while we are in the middle of a fight, we can remind ourselves that we love our partner and don’t want to hurt him or her. It might be momentarily easier to defend ourselves or to lash out, but it does not ultimately serve us to hurt the people we love. And the more hurtful we are, the less likely it is that our loved one will try to see things from our point of view.
When you are in a fight with your partner, ask yourself, in the moment, what you really hope to gain from the interaction. If you’re simply ticked off and lashing out, try telling the other person how you’re feeling and why you feel that way (without attacking them) and ask for some time to cool down.
Rather than giving you specific examples of “I statements”, or using psychobabble to describe proper conflict management, I want to challenge you to be honest with yourself when you are in an argument. What are your motivations? Are you being nice? Is what you want to say going to move you and your partner away from anger and closer to resolution?
As adults, we usually know when we’re being nasty, manipulative, or mean. Sometimes we’re so angry we just don’t care. But we don’t win arguments by being right, or by beating the other person down. The reality is that we are going to be right sometimes and wrong sometimes and we may not know, at the time, whether or not our perspective is off.
Whether you feel love in the midst of a conflict or not, you can still behave lovingly. Minimally, you can choose not to be hurtful. If you feel attacked, you can choose to see your partner’s pain instead of focusing on their hurtful words.
When you’re wrong, apologize. This seems like such an obvious thing, but we all struggle with this. We think that if we apologize we’ll lose power or the other person will punish us. Or we imagine that our partner will use our apology against us in some way. Apologize anyway.
Unless you are in a relationship with a manipulative sociopath, be loving. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt. Choose to see your partner’s highest self. Remember the things you love about him or her, rather than focusing on real or imagined flaws.
When you are motivated by love and compassion, you will find that energy returned to you.
This blog was motivated by a fight I had last night with someone I love. I was hurtful and I could have handled things better. I’m not sure who was right and who was wrong– most arguments fall in a grey area– and it doesn’t really matter. Even if I wasn’t wrong, I love him more than I love feeling right, so I’m off to apologize.
I trust that I will be forgiven.
Best of luck to you in your relationships. Love may not be easy, but it’s worth every bit of effort because love and human connection are the only things that matter.