Standing for the Relationship

I am used to conflict both in myself and with those that mean the most to me. I read somewhere (a Family Systems Theory book) that conflict is most likely a result of too much closeness (as in smothering) or too much distance (as in cutoff). Either way, people then often blame, attack or hide and get all emotionally flooded. We stop thinking. Emotional ruminating is not thinking.

Even when we hide from the other who we feel has hurt us, we probably fight with them in our heads. We imagine beating them into powerlessness with our wonderfully practiced attacks. Our opponent is probably doing the same thing right when we are.

It seems to me that when we attack and defend, we ignore our relationship. How we are covenanted suffer-ers in the elusive benefit of defeating the other.

Who stands for the relationship?

I visited with a couple in noisy conflict yesterday. Like pugilists whacking and hacking, they listened only to their “inner dialogue” not to each other and thus projected rage and hurt to their partner.

I asked them “how is your hatred working for you?“ The husband complained that he didn’t hate his wife, but she agreed with the word “hatred.” I said, “how is your hatred towards your marriage working for you.“

Hmmm.

When couples bicker they bleed the goodness of what is between them. The couple may harangue each other thinking that it is just about them. But it is the marriage — a distinct entity — that loses most.

Fighting: We See Things as We Are

Anais Nin commented that “we don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.”

Acknowledging this – that our life and especially our pain, skews our seeing and our thinking – is the first step in mediation and conflict resolution.

If the psychologist observes this when two parties are deeply stuck and viciously divided, she challenges her client-friend’s way of being in the world, his world view.

The second step is to appreciate the other’s point of view – to see that it has merit.

The third step in mediation is to find an agreed upon goal that both parties can strive towards. This is popularly known as a ‘win-win’ solution and puts the combatants on the same side.

These 3 steps result in a ‘success’ that is seldom better than 70%; in other words, neither party gets the perfection they think they are due.

Acknowledging, then appreciating and finally agreeing. And that seems right to me.

Is My Marriage Worth It?

Conflict and relationships go together. A conflict-free marriage is an oxymoron.

Why? People mature at different rates; they have different values (some they don’t even know they have); and people see and experience the world differently. And all of this leads to tension that can result in conflict. And sometimes we wonder if marriage is worth it.

These are the kinds of issues my clients bring to couple therapy. Think about these questions for you and your marriage.

• If you had to create a short list of people you could spend the day with, would your spouse be on that list? Do you genuinely enjoy each other’s company? Do you laugh when you’re together?
• Do you have the same or similar values, goals and interests? Do you and your spouse enjoy doing some or lots of things together? Do the two of you want the same things out of life?
• Do you express a lot of affection and appreciation for each other? Or is there mostly indifference, negativity and hostility in your relationship?
• Do you feel understood when you are talking with your partner? Does your spouse try to see your point of view? When discussing things, does your husband or wife listen to what you have to say?
• Is your relationship usually based on fairness? Does your spouse see you as an equal? Do you feel you are treated with respect? Or do you feel used, exploited, or taken for granted?
Do you feel that your spouse will be there for you in a time of need? Can you count on your spouse for help when the going gets tough?
• Do you feel comfortable sharing your private thoughts with your spouse? How easy is it for you to talk to your spouse about sensitive issues?
• When you disagree with each other, do the two of you work together and try to resolve your differences? Or is there a lot of hostility, disregard and contempt when disagreements arise?
• Does your spouse care for you sexually? Do you make love pretty regularly? Or are you disappointed or frustrated with your affection?

The pain can be huge. This happens when conflict spikes and shared pleasures plummet. And even at these times, working on your marriage is always worth it.

Hurt, Harm and Help (“One RingyDingy”)

Hurt is inevitable, predictable and measureable. It is part of what it is to be human. Some hurts are trifling (like being middle-fingered by a fellow highway traveler who dislikes one’s lane-changing creativity is a level 1 hurt) and some are terrible (I think of my friend’s recurring cancer – this is a level 10 hurt).

The other day a mean-spirited and wicked driver (the words are in italics because that is not exactly what I shouted at the time) cut me off, gave me the finger, stamped on his brakes and shocked me and my cute Mini Cooper into less than “British racing green” subservience. This experience hurt my normally sweet nature, but no harm was to be found on my soul.

Until I considered this intentional insult a little bit further and then much harm was discovered just below the surface. I pondered, “Why do people pick on me when I am such a saint?” (I actually don’t think this in my more knowing moments) and “He could have killed me; must have been drunk!” etc.

And then I felt justified sufficiently to be wounded, harmed even.

Of course, talking to my friends didn’t help. “Paddy you are such a great driver,” some said and then I was reassured that the hurt I experienced was definitely intentional and, almost, “spiritual warfare” (this said by my biblical friends who find a devil under every muffler and bumper).

An old lesson I have re-discovered: I judge others by their behaviours (especially the evil ones, e.g. middle fingers) and I judge myself on the basis of my good intent (e.g. being a “saint,” which I don’t really believe as I have said above).

Hurts don’t necessarily lead to harms unless you give them a big, fat promotion. Harms have to do with how you inflate the hurts. Magnify your hurts, treasure them as horribly special and, sure enough, you will have florid harms. Plenty of them in fact.

So what is the help here? It comes from the world-renowned philosopher, Lily Tomlin, (you can see her on this classic You Tube, “One RingyDingy”) who said, “forgiveness is giving up the hope of having a better past.” Even a better driving-the-highway past.

Okay. Healing to me.

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