If you experience some of the same old arguments cropping up over and over again with your partner, you certainly are not alone. But as much as misery loves company, wouldn’t it be wonderful to finally be rid of those conflicts?
Over the course of your life, you have probably invested more energy trying to fix your relationships than almost any other endeavor. Most of us do and yet no matter how smart, capable, accomplished or otherwise successful we may be, the vast majority of us find relationships to be one of the most difficult and often confusing aspects of our lives.
After awhile, it can seem like there is no winning. Even if couples seek professional help, it often leads to disillusionment. As soon as they leave the therapist’s office, the same conflicts rear their ugly heads destroying all hope that anything might ever change for the better. But whether they seek help or go it alone, many couples find themselves repeating familiar arguments for what can seem like forever.
Jane was at her wits end with her husband, Tom, of ten years. No matter what she did, he would not stop insulting her when they were out with their friends and family. It might seem like a small irritation to an outside observer, but after a decade of this, Jane felt like slapping the snot out of Tom.
Tom insisted that he was just having fun teasing Jane and accused her of taking herself far too seriously. Jane told Tom she felt like he didn’t value her or their relationship enough to treat her with the respect she deserves. Whenever Jane went there, Tom just rolled his eyes and started playing one of his favorite video games. At that point in the now well-worn argument, Jane would storm out of the room and call one of her girlfriends to complain about Tom.
When their tempers cooled, both Jane and Tom would find a way to share a smile and give each other a hug. They would remember what they loved about each other and resolve not to fight like that again. But of course they did fight like that again and again and again . . . just like most couples do. In fact, their friends laughed at them and told them that was “just the way it is,” that all couples go through it and after a while you learn to live with it.
But a lot of things happen to most couples including a loss of interest in sex with each other and a gradual decline in the depth of emotional sharing. Are we to just accept that as a “normal” part of long-term relationships? Or is there some way we can win at love?
Before answering that question, let’s examine the reasons we are failing.
Five Reasons You Aren’t Winning That Argument
1. You Think the Facts Matter:
Although factual information and logic are fantastic tools in many areas of life, they don’t make much difference to our emotional hearts. Our hearts and therefore our emotions drive our relationships to such as extent that the “facts” can become irrelevant.
2. You Want Your Partner to Agree with You:
We all want to be “right” but that drive to gain consensus and feel vindicated can destroy intimacy. If you “win,” then your partner “loses.” Ultimately, that means you will both lose.
3. You Want to Find a Solution Instead of Feeling Your Feelings:
Even the best solutions will fail if the underlying feelings are ignored. Unresolved emotions are a powerfully destructive force in relationships. But one reason we avoid our partner’s feelings is because we are trying to avoid our own feelings. If you are not used to dealing with deep emotions, it can be frightening. For many of us, “solving” the problem feels safer than exploring our feelings and those of our partner.
4. You Do Your Best to Ignore Your Partner’s Body Language:
If your partner rolls their eyes in disgust or slumps their shoulders with despair, your words are not getting through to them because they have tuned you out. Continuing to try to make your point or engage your partner in conversation when they have shut down emotionally, is not only insensitive but illogical and unproductive.
5. You Confuse Solving the Problem with Solving the Relationship:
Couples fight about a lot of different topics but almost all of those conflicts have deeper issues at their core. If you don’t find out what those deeper issues are, your relationship will continue to experience difficulty which can eventually lead to serious trouble.
Now let’s look at those simple steps to relationship success. These steps are simple, but there is nothing easy about them!
Five Simple (Not Easy) Steps to Win in Your Relationship(s)
1. Forget Facts – Focus on Feelings:
When you find yourself trying to prove that you are “right,” stop. Take a breath and ask yourself, “What am I feeling?” If you feel safe to do so, tell your partner what you are feeling. Then ask your partner what they are feeling. If you don’t feel safe to share your feelings at first, begin by asking your partner how they feel.
2. Stop Apologizing and Start Asserting:
A lot of us turn to apologies when we are not able to reach an agreement with our partner. Saying you are sorry can calm an angry partner and help you feel safer in your relationship. But it is only a temporary fix. If you don’t share your true feelings as well as your needs in the relationship, then eventually your frustration will build to the point where you either explode or withdraw from your partner.
3. Play Show Me Your Movie:
This relationship game can be a lot of fun! Your version of what happened and your partner’s version can be very different. Rather than fight about it, give each other the chance to share your different versions of reality without interruption. While your partner shares their “movie” or version of what happened, sit back and allow your emotions to get swept away just like you do when you enjoy a good movie. Remember, you are not trying to figure out “who is right” or “what really happened.” Drop your defensive attitude and cultivate your curiosity! Your objective is twofold. First you want to experience your partner’s reality with as much empathy as possible. And secondly, you want to relate your experience so completely that you feel utterly understood. Your respective “movies” will no doubt be very different, so ditch the frustration and allow yourself to feel fascinated. This empathy exercise has the power to create feelings of trust and ease as you both let go of your need to “be right” and begin to understand your different perspectives.
4. Learn to Validate:
It takes practice to learn how to validate feelings and it is particularly difficult when your partner’s feelings are annoying or disturbing to you. But if you can put your feelings of fear or revulsion aside long enough to truly express caring, concern and empathy for your partner’s point of view and emotions, your relationship will become a source of joy instead of frustration. When you validate your partner’s feelings, you are not agreeing with them. You are instead, expressing your unconditional love for them.
5. Stretch to the Middle:
If you view your relationship as an opportunity to grow and become the person you always wanted to be, you can come to see the inevitable conflicts with your partner as exercises pushing you closer and closer to your goals. The differences between you and your partner can help both of you to shift your patterns so that you are more compatible. If you both endeavor to make positive changes, you will both stretch in the direction of your partner so that you ultimately meet in the middle. This not only can make living together a more pleasant experience, it can also help both of you to be less polarized and more balanced individuals.
Lists can over-simplify life’s difficulties and don’t always address our problems in a way which is truly helpful. If you want to understand how you can apply these five steps to your relationship(s), drop me an email and I will be happy to help. After all, you deserve to win at love!