Seeing our own stress, and realizing it’s in our partner too, is the beginning of meeting each other in a new way.
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Often when someone feels wronged by their partner they demand “payment” for the pain they feel unjustly inflicted upon them. History proves they will argue until this well-established pattern completes itself. Unable to resolve who’s to blame for the pain, one or the other will either storm off to brood over the mistreatment, or decide that “retreat” is the better part of valor and make some kind of peace offering, perhaps an apology. In the long run, neither of these “solutions” makes any real difference. Their suffering passes into the night, but not the unseen reasons for it.
For our love to thrive, everything about this kind of pain-driven pattern must be shattered. Acting from any part of this old pattern – while hoping for a new result – is like polishing old shoes that no longer fit, hoping the shine will change how they feel when you put them on!
Following are three simple examples of such futile actions:
Painful Pattern #1: Avoiding the Issue by “Agreeing to Disagree”
Near the “end” of a disagreement with your partner that has no end in sight one might say: “Let's agree to disagree.”
Now, maybe this technique has some benefit if you're at a party and a political discussion turns nasty. But what happens with our partner when, because of something they’ve done, or refuse to do – there’s a conflict between us – where we want them to agree that the problem at hand is their fault, but that’s not how they see it? The fallback pattern of “agreeing to disagree” does nothing to change the one-sided parts of us whose false perceptions and demands set us against each other in the first place. And when similar events recur, it’s not our “agreement” that we revisit; rather, it is we who are visited by the “wind and fury” of opposing forces whose continuing collision ensures that our original confrontation goes on...and on.
Painful Pattern #2: Pretending You Don’t Care
Pretend that you don’t feel any pain because of whatever just happened between you and your partner – as though it “doesn’t really matter.”
Here’s why this “act as if you don’t care” routine seems to work, at first: parading an icy heart not only goes to show that you can’t be hurt, but has the added “benefit” of making your partner feel the very chill you’re giving off. Sounds strong, in theory; but, to paraphrase a timeless truth: A stone hidden beneath the earth weighs as much as one on the surface. Too soon, when this weight gets too great to bear – which it always does – everything that had been buried comes rushing to the surface. Pent-up resentment is released that’s so far out of proportion to the deed blamed for it as to shake the very core of even the sturdiest of our relationships.
Painful Pattern #3: Blame and Shame
Imply, or even state directly, that what’s gone wrong in the relationship is basically their fault. Try to make your partner feel guilty because they’ve been unable to satisfy the expectations you have placed on them.
This pattern of using guilt or shame to “re-shape” our partner is doomed at the outset. Even if we manage to momentarily make them into the “perfect partner,” the ensuing contentment of having our expectations met is unsustainable, not just because our partner is unable to maintain the makeover we’ve imagined will end our differences, but because there’s no satisfying the parts of us that almost always find something that needs to be “fixed” in those we love. This pattern of using guilt or shame to try to change our partner will never come to an end until we see that it’s not just our partner who’s weaving it!
Which brings us to a fairly stunning discovery: our partner is not the reason why any painful pattern keeps re-appearing in our relationship.
To be sure, those we love are as much at “fault” for whatever makes us “crazy,” as we are driven “mad” by their actions. But, the real reason behind any escalating conflict between us is...we don’t know what to do with our own pain. Trying to escape its pressure is what pushes us to try to “remake” our partner or – at the very least – to make them “pay” for our suffering that we’re sure they’re making us feel.
Seeing our own pressure and realizing it’s in our partner too is the beginning of meeting each other in a new way that can cancel these painful patterns before they get started.
Adapted from Relationship Magic: Waking Up Together by Guy Finley. ©2018 Guy Finley. Used by permission from Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd.