You’ve just returned home after a lovely day with your partner…walking on the beach, lively conversation, a delicious meal. Still laughing and being playful with one another, something triggers one of you and a disagreement begins. How could this be happening? It’s going to ruin the entire day! Can I stop the progression into the dark abyss before it gets out of control? Absolutely.
When did this happen… how did we let negative interactions and disappointments have the power to turn into big overshadowing events? Somehow we have learned to be more comfortable focusing on what isn’t working in our life… and what could go wrong… rather than expecting life to remain positive and wonderful. We can’t tell you the countless times things are going well for a client and they say: I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop! Really? Well, if that’s what you are looking for and expecting, that is exactly what you are going to get!
There are a couple key ideas that need to be established in order to change this downward spiral.
First, people have a internal frame of reference or set point, like a thermostat. If you think about describing someone you know, you might say: she’s a happy person, usually optimistic, always smiling. Or, he’s normally critical and angry, always pointing out what’s wrong in the world. We all have an emotional set point from which we normally operate. You can be happy and operate from a place of harmony and joy. You can be sad or angry and live your life from that place. Each of our emotions carries with it a momentum and we tend to attract to ourselves situations that match that momentum. If you tend to be negative and see what is wrong with the world, you will experience life from that filter. If you are positive and see the good in life, your experience will be from that frame of reference. Two people can view the same situation and experience it totally differently, depending on their set point or perspective. And each perspective will lead to a different outcome. Bottom line: decide where you want to operate from and become more aware of when that momentum changes. Only then will you be able to do something about it before you spiral out of control.
Second, it is important to know that there is a fundamental decision that needs to be made when an argument occurs with a partner. That is the choice between being right or being loving. For the sake of simplicity, this means that you can either stand your ground and insist that your position is the only correct opinion and your partner needs to agree with you… OR… you can decide that being happy in your relationship is more important than the argument, and agree to disagree. In time you will hopefully learn to listen to one another’s perspectives and be able to discuss them calmly. It is crucial, however, that you understand that the choice is always there and it is yours to make.
How does this fit into the discussion of disagreements and how to shift them before we enter the dark abyss? It boils down to your awareness of what you want and what you are willing to do to get it.
You can start by becoming aware of the tendency to accept a downward shift in momentum as normal and change it. Change it immediately. Instead of accepting an unfavorable turn in your day, expect your joyous day to continue. When something happens that triggers a disagreement, look at that disagreement as a snapshot in time, not like the beginning of the end. Instead of a “this is going to ruin the entire day” attitude, how about approaching the disagreement with curiosity: “that’s an interesting perspective. I’m not sure I understand how you came to that conclusion. Tell me more.” Or, “I’d rather milk this fabulous day for all it is worth. Can we table this discussion until tomorrow?”
We realize that not all upsets can be handled this easily. Let’s say the situation went from loving to ugly instantly. It happens. When it does, you need to remember Einstein’s famous words: No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it. What does that mean exactly? It means that when you are in a heated exchange, it is not the best time to try and solve the issue. Instead, we suggest that you and your partner adopt the following agreement: I love you enough; I love me
enough; I love our relationship enough not to continue down this negative path. Let’s agree to take a 30 minute time out, cool down, get back to the place of loving one another again, and then continue the discussion. Physiologically, this will give your body time to calm down and it will give you time to re-focus your energy on what you want (a loving relationship) not the lack of it. This might be a radical or unfamiliar way to deal with conflict, but it is one that yields very positive results.
There are a few other pieces to this Cool Down Exercise that will assist you. When people are upset, it is normal to begin thinking the worst… my partner is a jerk. This is never going to work. Why do I stay in this relationship? Instead of jumping on that runaway train, we want you to take a deep breath and ask yourself the following questions:
What was my partner trying to tell me?
What was my part in escalating this disagreement?
What brings me joy? Start thinking thoughts that make you happy…a sunny day, playing with your pet, your last vacation…then switch to loving thoughts about your partner.
If you each take 30 minutes to ask yourself these questions, you will be in a place to end the disagreement when you come back together. The momentum will be shifted away from anger and disappointment and back to the place of love and companionship. If you are still upset after 30 minutes, it is important that you still come back together. Simply let your partner know that you need an additional 30 minutes to cool down. It is helpful to tell him at this point that you love him, you would simply like more time to work through your feelings. Then re-ask yourself the three questions above.
This exercise can keep a minor disagreement from turning into an ugly situation. The steps are simple, but not necessarily easy. This practice takes consistent effort. One thing is for sure: the momentum will build in whichever direction you choose to focus. If you focus on what is not working in your relationship, you will get more of that. If you focus on what is working in your relationship you will create more of that. Begin with baby steps, be patient with yourself while you are learning, and watch for the shift to happen.
The Relationship Specialists, Marilyn Hough, LMFT and Chuck Schmitt, LMFT, are inspirational teachers who share their knowledge and skills to inspire others to live their best life. They have been working together for the last twenty years. They work with individuals and couples of all ages. For more information about improving your relationships check out their website at: www.RelationshipSpecialists.com. Sign up to receive their newsletter, learn more about their services, workshops and intensives. You can contact them at 503-648-4884