Many clients tell me that they have one topic that they just don’t seem to be able to discuss with their partner. It’s often money, intimacy, careers or children and whenever the topic comes up they either end up in a shouting match or being passive aggressive and defensive with each other.
It then becomes easier to avoid the subject than it does to bring it up again and try to find a resolution.
The trouble is, all the while this is happening, resentment, fear and disconnection build. You may not be fully aware of this happening within you, but if you feel like you are having to hold back, a part of you shuts down in terms of believing that you can create a truly honest, open and loving connection with your partner.
This is why so many couples become very good at playing a game whereby their relationship may look good on the outside, but the reality is it consists of two people who are either numbing their pain with alcohol, social media, food and so forth or who are feeling a recurring sense of loneliness and dissatisfaction.
I would like to share a truth about conflict that is often missed. Many of us have been conditioned to believe that conflict and arguments are bad, but this is not the full truth. There is no doubt that they are uncomfortable. However, arguments or conflict are not bad in and of themselves. In fact, they can hold the seeds of huge transformation. I often say to my clients ‘it’s not a problem that you are experiencing conflict, the important thing is how you deal with it’.
Arguments that are not dealt with in a healthy manner, like those I mention above, are without a doubt an issue because they contribute to long-term disconnection and unhappiness. However, when you are willing to take responsibility for your own emotions and your own part to play in an argument, even if it is after the event, then you are giving yourself and your relationship the gift of greater authenticity and honesty. This will pave the way for more openness on an emotional level, along with deeper connection, and a greater feeling of safety.
Being willing to take such responsibility means that you have to swallow your pride and hold your hand up to admit where you can see you were acting from a place of blame, criticism or defensiveness. It is also important to not be attached to your partner responding in the same way.
We must leave our partner to respond in their own time and own way. When you take a stand for honesty, which is simply a case of doing the right thing and acting with integrity; you are leading the way and often it will not be long before your partner picks up on the change in you, as well as the sense of greater freedom that exists within the relationship.
It is not always easy to be the first person to go in and admit where you went wrong; where you were acting from fear or in fact acting like a child with a sense of entitlement, which is what many adults resort to. It can seem unfair to be the only one to own up and I know you might be thinking ‘why should I always be the one to initiate the conversation.’ However, it is far more important to ask yourself the following questions:
· If I could have a relationship where I feel totally safe to express how I really feel rather than one where I have to hide my feelings and defend myself, which one would I rather have?
· What sort of person do I want to be in my romantic life? Someone who is willing to admit their mistakes or someone who has to be right all the time?
· What am I really scared might happen if I admit my true fears or concerns?
This last question holds the key to transforming our conflict. Most people are scared to admit their true fears, but the truth is we are all human beings with emotions. Fear is part of our conditioning. Whilst a lot of the fear is irrational it still can feel very real and in order to neutralise the discomfort it brings; we need to be able to express it.
This is why I recommend that my clients go back to their partner and explain what was really going on behind their reactions. Here is an example of what you might say if you were taking full responsibility: “I realise now that I was getting so angry about the fact that you spent that money on golf clubs because I was actually anxious about us getting into debt. The truth is I find it difficult to spend money on myself as it is hard for me to prioritise my own leisure time. In many ways I am actually jealous that you find it so easy.”
Note how real and honest this sounds. The only reason you would not want to express yourself in this way is because you fear the consequences and that is another opportunity to be open about your fears. What you are doing is conveying that you are willing to accept your role in the argument and that you want to try and do things better next time. Other than this you do not need to say much else.
‘Even if you think your partner is not capable based on past experiences, give them a chance. Be the person you want to be first and take a leap of faith’
The best thing to do is give your partner some space to reflect and not be attached to getting a particular outcome from them. They will feel far less pressurised to respond according to your expectations and in a way that does not feel congruent to them.
We are not taught to relate to each other in the ways I am suggesting and so they may feel scary or alien to you. However, they are based on tried and tested ways of relating and they can make a huge difference to any relationship.
Even if you think your partner is not capable based on past experiences, give them a chance. Be the person you want to be first and take a leap of faith. Extraordinary relationships are always created from new thinking and behaviour, and this must always come from you taking a stand for what you want to believe is possible.
If you have any questions on this topic or about relationships, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I pick a question to answer from our readers each month. All names will be kept anonymous.
Main pic: @jakobowens1