How to Keep a RelationshipWhen it comes to love, you need not fall but rather surrender, surrender to the idea that you must love yourself before you can love another. You must absolutely trust yourself before you can absolutely trust another and most importantly you must accept your flaws before you can accept the flaws of another. ~Philosophy: Falling in Love
Remember the last time you got in a fight or argument with your significant other? Wasn’t it frustrating? Wasn’t it painful? Was it necessary? What can we do to best deal with these situations without ruining our relationships?
Relationships with our spouses and girl/boy-friends can be one of the most rewarding aspects of our lives. We hold a special place for that someone with whom we’ve shared countless moments of joy. Personality differences are inevitable, and what makes us unique as individuals can result in disagreements and conflicts during our relationship.
When these disagreements are not properly understood and managed emotionally, trivial exchanges can stir into full-on battles, and possibly end what we’ve spent months or years to build.
Yes, there are relationships where personalities are mismatched and breakups are beneficial. However, many breakups are unnecessary, as a result of built up anger and destructive cycles. When they happen, we experience a tremendous amount of pain and emotional hurt.
By facing our partners with awareness and a genuine desire for understanding, I believe that we hold the key to wellness in these special relationships.
My Personal Story
I’ve had my share of hurt feelings and failed relationships. What I’ve learned is that we do not plan fights with our loved ones, they tend to surface when we are least expecting it, and they hurt. Here’s a personal story from my own experience:
Valentine’s day, 2008. Adam and I had spent a beautiful day on a slice of heaven known as Alleppey in Kerala, India. We stayed in a sweet little bamboo hut along the river. We awoke in the morning to the sound of roosters and black birds, and were surrounded by utter calmness and endless fields of green palm trees. A picture perfect day spent filled with love and the gifts of nature.
The next day, we arose feeling a little agitated due to the heat, dehydration and travel stress. I felt uneasy with the remainder of our trip unplanned, and I cracked and threw a hissy fit. Adam was frustrated by being away from our familiar conveniences. Our hormones boiled and we found ourselves in a very emotional ‘fight’, or rather a day of tense silence.
Isn’t it ironic? Within a matter of 12 hours, a harmonious relationship turned suddenly rocky. Don’t they always happen that way?
Once we started talking openly and candidly, we were able to bounce out of the negative communication pattern and bring awareness into the situation. We turned two self-serving egos battling to-be-right, into an opportunity for mutual growth and personal transformation. The experience had brought us closer as partners and we were able to understand how to better handle such situations in the future.
This article shares what we’ve learned after some hours of introspective questioning on the topic of relationship miscommunication. What we’ve learned has proven wonders for our relationship.
Before digging into ways we can overcome arguments, disagreements and fights from a relationship, let’s have a closer look at what happens when we are in this uncomfortable state. The following are some insights we’ve observed from our argument patterns.
- Playing the Crying Baby – We take turns becoming a baby. At any one point during a fight, one of us is calm, while the other turns into a baby. That person becomes irrational, severely emotional, whiny and defensive. They say things that are regretted later. Once the baby finishes expressing him or herself, slowly rises on become clam, the role switches and the other person becomes the crying baby.
- Attention, Appreciation, Acknowledgement – When we fall into the crying baby state, we are really seeking attention, acknowledgement, appreciation and care. The root for our emotional reaction when we are in this state is seeking reinforcement for why we matter.
- Selfish & Self-Serving – When our inner baby subsumes us, we are selfish and self-serving. We cannot understand why our partner does not sympathize. The more we try to express ourselves, the less they seem to tune into what is bothering us. In this state, we lack the capacity to consider our partner’s feelings, and forget that they too are hurt.
- Victim Mindset – When we become a baby, we feel that we are the victim. Our mind is focused on seeking evidence that support our victim story. By doing so, the other person becomes the unreasonable one. Once we find our evidence, we start playing scenes of ourselves as the victim, and we play this on repeat. We feel pain in our hearts, and we seek more pain and more reasons for pain. In some unconscious way, we enjoy this pain because it allows us to play the victim role, thus feeding our fears that life is full of painful relationships and no one truly understands us.Photo by Katsuaki Shoda
- Right & Wrong – Superficially, the battle can be distilled down to who is right. We believe that we are right and we must prove that the other person is wrong. The disagreement quickly turns into a battle of the egos. In this state, we have a strong urge to prove to the other person that we are right, after all.
- Bottled Emotions – As the crying baby, we express purely the self-serving thoughts that arise in our minds. The emotions bottled deep inside us are causing those thoughts, but they are often unrelated to the situation. Having bottled emotions does not mean that we cannot communicate our feelings. Often times, we are not even conscious of these feelings until they manifest into our lives. For example, we go out to watch a movie, but we really didn’t want to go see the movie to begin with, so we unconsciously sabotage the movie outing with a problem: complaining about bad seats, or complaining that the ticket line is too long.
- Alternative Meaning – We collect words expressed by the other person, jump to conclusions, and assume the worst. We find a meaning that serves us but is not the true meaning of their words in that moment. We tell ourselves that this meaning is the absolute meaning, and is definite and permanent. Truth is, when we are irrational, we say all sorts of things we don’t mean out of heightened emotions.
- Differences Between the Sexes – Men are just as emotional and sensitive as women. The difference is in the way that men and women express themselves, and this is often misunderstood. Here are some differences we’ve observed. Keep in mind the following three things while reading: 1.) I realize that this is a generalization, so bear with me. 2) When I speak about “women”, I am referring to feminine qualities and tendencies instead of the gender. Similarly, when I mention “men”, I am referring to masculine qualities. It is possible for a woman to have more traditionally masculine qualities and vice-versa. 3) I am using male- female couple in the examples, but this is applicable to same sex couples as well.
- As women, we tend to hide our inner thoughts. When we are upset about something, we assume that the other person is a mind-reader and should know exactly what we are thinking without telling them. We throw hints by being upset and frustrated. This is extremely frustrating for men (or other women), since they want to help, but cannot seem to get anywhere and cannot understand why we are so upset. At the sight of our partner not picking up on our clues, we get even more upset and hurt.
- As men, we tend to be more verbal, we think out loud. We may internalize some or all of our feelings, but our thoughts are externalized through speaking or writing. Because we speak our thoughts, we often get in trouble with the women in our lives, since she can be hurt by what we say. Society has trained us to have an alpha-male ego, which acts like a wall defending the integrity and strength of our character. This strength defines us and our thoughts, keeping our less-than-rock-steady emotions well guarded. We are actually highly perceptive and more sensitive than society gives us credit for. We can easily sense when our women are unhappy and we want to help by making her happy again. But she remains upset and assumes that we are mind-readers. But we just don’t know what she is thinking. This is really painful. We wish she just told us exactly what we can do to make her happy again.
It is inevitable that partners are going to have different opinions, and everyone has days where their emotions can get the better of them. The problem is not that we have conflicts with our partner, the problem lies in the way we handle the situation. When our egos get in the way, our mind becomes clouded and we end up making mountains out of mole hills.
Photo by Meredith Farmer
Some of us use these conflicts as an opportunity to answer: Is my relationship stronger than the problem? They use the situation as a way to measure the relationship stability. They fail to see that this question itself causes conflict, since it forces comparison. Instead, a more effective question to ask is: Are we mature enough as people to resolve the conflict with consideration, awareness and grace?
The following are some pointers that have proven to be effective in our relationship:
1. Awareness – Bringing awareness into the situation. Become the observer of your thoughts, your emotions, your needs, and your ego. Ask yourself,
- What is it I want at this moment?
- Is what I want from my heart or filtered by my ego?
- Will getting what I want help me become a better person?
- Will getting what I want bring happiness and fulfillment to me and those around me?
- What are the most important aspects in my life? Does getting this fit into my values?
2. Express, Don’t Suppress – Speak candidly and freely. Yes, the truth can hurt, but if you take responsibility for your words and speak with respect for the other person, the honestly and sincerity from your message will shine through. The other person will deeply appreciate you for it. Honestly not only releases your mental load, but also helps mutual understanding.
3. Recognize the Crying Baby – By bringing awareness into a situation, we will get better at recognizing when our partner is in the crying baby state. When they are in a baby state, it is highly beneficial if we remain calm. Don’t take what they say personally during this state, they don’t mean it.
4. How to Calm the Baby – The crying baby state is a primal state. We become irrational and unreasonable. We feel like we’re a little kid again crying for attention. With this in mind, what can our partner do to calm us when we ourselves are in a baby state? Sit down with your partner ahead of time to openly discuss what would make them feel better when they are this baby state? For example, to calm the baby in me, I would love to be held and caressed. To calm the baby in Adam, he wants to be focused on deep breath to draw out of that state of mind. What will calm the baby in you?
5. Pattern Interrupt – When we repeatedly do something, it becomes a habit. Instead of giving in to a comfortable action that doesn’t give you the result you want, interrupt that pattern by doing something (shockingly) unrelated or random. When you feel yourself going down a negative spiral, get up and do 10 jumping jacks with exaggerated movements, make funny faces, do a happy dance around the living room. This will help to bounce you out of that state of mind.
6. “Look into my Eyes” – If you see that your partner is in an irrational baby state or is upset, ask them to look into your eyes, even for just 30 seconds. When they are looking at your eyes, look back into their eyes and imagine passing an infinite amount of love towards them. Through their eyes, look for their soul. You may be upset too, just surrender to the moment, take some deep breaths, and focus only on their eyes and how beautiful they are.
7. Breathing – Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Take a few deep breaths and continue to breathe normally. Continue to do this for at least 5-10 minutes. Draw your focus into your lungs expanding and contracting. Feel the energy the air brings. As you change your focus, you will also change your mindset.
8. Ask yourself: “Am I arguing so that I could win the battle?” – If the answer is yes, ask yourself whether winning this battle will make a difference in your life in 40 years? How about tomorrow?
9. Ask yourself: “What is it about myself that I don’t like?” – Oftentimes, the arguments we get into are simply an extension of ourselves, though we may not realize it until we reflect at a later time. When we find ourselves jumping quickly into judging other people, we are really projecting what we dislike about ourselves on to that person. Observing our thoughts and behaviors toward others can expose our own insecurities on the subject matter.
Photo by Katsuaki Shoda
10. Try on Different Shoes – Imagine yourself in your partner’s shoes. To the best of your ability, feel the pain the other person is experiencing. How does it feel? What is your new perspective like? For a few seconds, pretend that “Me” does not exist, and that you are now the other person. Experience their words and feelings as if your own. This simple exercise helps to give you compassion and consideration towards another’s point of view.
11. “How it made me feel.” – When communicating your points of view, always speak in terms of how something made you feel. Example, “When I didn’t hear from you, it made me feel that I was not important.”. Expressing how something made us feel instead of what we think they did wrong, reduces their instinctive need to feel defensive. When people are not on the fence about something, they are more likely to listen and be more willing to resolve an issue.
12. Step Out, Cool Off – Go to a different room, separate yourself for a few minutes to gain perspective and clarity. Do some deep breathing exercises. Re-group yourself and bring awareness into the situation. Regain a clear grasp of what is most important to you, and reevaluate whether the “fight” is worth battling.
13. Listen – Listen to the other person. Really listen to them. Give them the respect that you would like to have, give them a chance to speak without judging them. Surrender to the moment and just be there. Listen to them as if you were listening to yourself. Listen to them in the way you want to be listened to.
14. Forgive & Accept – Remember that inside, we are all good people. Really, we were all born innocent, loving, kind and generous. See the light in them, as you too have that light within yourself.
15. Apologize & Explain – Say I’m sorry and show that you mean it by explaining why you are sorry. Don’t be shy or let your pride get in the way. Life is short, do the right thing, instead of the thing right for your ego.
16. Relinquish Defensiveness – Relinquish the need to be defensive. Listen when the other person express their feelings. Don’t treat their expression as criticism, listen with acceptance and a genuine desire to love them. This is not a power struggle, it is a conversation. Your partner’s expression of their feelings and needs has nothing to do with you. And don’t tell the other person, “Stop being so defensive”.
17. Focus on What They Did Well – When we are upset with our partners, we tend to focus on what they did wrong, and qualities we believe to be character flaws. “What we focus on expands.“, and these qualities amplify the more we give focus to them. This in turn makes us even more upset. Focus on what he or she has done right. Focus on the things we love about them. Focus on the beautiful characteristics that make them unique.
18. Stop Point Fingers – Placing blame will keep the fighting alive. It is a natural progression to blame our unhappiness and un-comfort on other people or events around us. I too have done this, many, many times. At the end of the day, the only thing we have control over is ourselves, and our reactions to life situations. Can we really blame others for our unhappiness? Instead, look within ourselves and see what we can proactively do to shift our thinking and perception of the situation such that we can feel happy? As one of my favorite quotes states so wisely, “We cannot control the wind, but we can direct the sail.” So true.
19. Gratitude – I’ve always found it helpful when feeling moody and argumentative to focus on the blessings in my life. By shifting our focus, we shift our state of being and move away from continuing to feel bad. List out the things you are grateful for today, close your eyes and thank every part of your body for its endless function, appreciate your surroundings, write in a journal on all things you are grateful for today, or read an old journal entry of your gratitude list.
20. Build Strong Sense of Self Worth – I believe that the insecurities that rise out of relationships are the result of insecurities we have with ourselves. We have to love ourselves before we can truly accept love from others. Dedicate time to building relationships with ourselves, and in the process, we will find that our insecurities slowly disintegrate and we end up falling in love with ourselves. We do not fall in love in an ego driven way, but in the same way we experience love and connection for all beings. Go on self dates, spend quality time with yourself, appreciate you, do things that feed your soul. What do you love to do that you wished you could do more of? For me, that’s reading.
What has worked for you when dealing with these uncomfortable moments in a relationship? What is your ideal relationship like?
Share your thoughts in the comments. See you in there!