There is one question that disarms couples at a moment of battle.

The Conflict 

John and Susan zoom into me on video chat in South Carolina. John’s a high-level executive using a steel firm. And while he spends a whole lot of time on the job, he is aging and well aware that his home life beckons, meaning in the upcoming few years, he will have more time at home with his partner.

I have been working with John for a little bit and enjoy this moment, occasionally, I will invite a customer’s partner on the call. We talk further about the job we have been doing and I get a glimpse into the other side of the relationship.

In this example, John has been feeling as though he can’t make Susan happy. Whatever he does it does not appear to be enough.

She’s been very candid with him about how she believes he has checked out in their connection.

Plus it comes out a moment later, when she says to him,”It is not me that is the issue, it is you. You did not show up Tuesday, did you?” They had a dinner date in the home.

He sighs, pulls away, a few inches from her, while still staying in the display view. I can tell he is getting mad, feels almost embarrassed to be outed by his wife, particularly in front of me.   Maybe this was not such a fantastic idea, I imagine him thinking.

“I called. You knew I had a significant last-minute meeting that night. I would’ve been there when I could have.”

“Always do the job, always work, God forbid you can tell them you have a meeting in your home that you can’t skip. God forbid…”

“I do not beg na do this anymore,” he barks.

she says.

“It means I do not wish to fight you.”

“I am not fighting with you, I am merely stating the truth,” she says

My instinct would be to separate these two fighting cats. And yet I allow it to play out a little bit.

Listen, I do not want struggle like this, particularly in front of Stuart,” John says.

“Well, he wants to see what is happening between us, behind closed doors, is not that right?” Susan looks at me for validation.

A moment passes, then another.

It is quite embarrassing, painful, but a reality.  They’re in a dynamic countless couples act out daily.

“Okay, timeout. Can you take a deep breath?” I say.

This kind of interaction?”

I have them turn towards one another gently, look into each other’s eyes. This also is truth. They do it reluctantly

As they do, I know what I will say. With strong statements and questions, I will break through their own bubble.

“Both of you, right now while looking at each other, I would like you to ask yourself right here right now, think about this question I am going to ask you.  It is a question that I think will determine your future.”

I pause, permit the effect of what I have said to land.

“What do you like? To be right, to win the debate or to be connected and loved?” 

Their faces are stone-cold, no saying. They look away from one another, then back again.

“F*#k, this is so hard,” Susan says. “… and so crucial. Thank you. I have been a royal bitch, have not I?”

And no need to be that person to yourself,” I say. “So take a breath and see if there’s a space where you are able to forego self-judgment, Susan. You are just as hard on him as you’re on yourself. Light tears roll out from her eyes.

“Be in connection with yourself for a minute, Susan. That’s where the true gift lives. Find your way back to yourself.  And then when you are ready, bring it back to John.  Get relational, not righteous.  You know he’s trying, he is trying hard. Take it, nourish what he gives you, and if you are ready, see him”

I know John is trying. He has shown that in our weekly coaching calls.

The Reconnection

She looks up at him teary-eyed, starting to link, rather than clinging tightly to being correct.  She drops her sword and shield. This is so tough to do. And she does it. It is her work. She’s heroic at this moment.

They reconvene, with their eyes, beyond logic. Admitting themselves back to the soul of the relationship — being relational, loving rather than right.

This is a traditional switch from our logical fact-hungry left mind to our emotive intuitive right brain.  You may think of the left brain as the fighter, the right brain as the lover.  We are a lot more relational in our right brain.

And to get there, in the heat of battle, just ask this one question — Do I need to be right or do I would like to be loved?   And ask it of your spouse.

When taken into your heart, it immediately breaks through one’s defenses and helps both partners to get off the battle and back to each other’s graces.

John and Susan saw that. And they continued to use that very simple question for a long time to come.

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When Your Partner is not The Issue, Perhaps You Are

It was classic one finger pointing at my spouse, three pointing back at me.

The Problem

Man, I was pissed off. For the second time in a week, she changed plans. Then she decided she couldn’t meet me, as intended.  Damn, it was her idea in the first location.

She left me one of these voice text-memos. “Listen, I’m headed home. I want some time alone. I hope you will come by later.” I wasn’t even part of her choice.

And who feels the effect?

Speaking My Truth 

And then I thought, I want to tell her truth. This isn’t working for me. I really don’t feel like a priority for you.

She wants to know where I stand. I have been enjoying”flexible nice man” and it is not serving me. No more withholding.

Damn! Relationships are such a pain in the ass.

I begin recording a voice memo back to her.

“Hey babe, that did not work for me. For you to send me a voice memo and then go home. We had plans and besides… it does not feel right for me to now drive to you… and also…”

She said she wants some alone time. I don’t need to dump this on her today. I delete the voice memo.

I take a breath. Damn, I am jacked up.

I toss the telephone on a table. Shit, I do not know what to say to her. I pick up the telephone. I text a reply –“Got it. TTYL.”

I am proud of not escalating, making something from nothing. However, it is not nothing. Then, what is it?

I want some time. I am able to reply in one hour. Let her have her time. I want to determine what’s happening inside of me.

I tap in. It is clear to me. I’m angry.  And I know that under anger is frequently sadness.  I am sad, disappointed that I didn’t get an opportunity to see her.

I feel some more, I think, Did I tell her to call me before she made her choice? I believe it further. Shit, I did not. I advised her to come by or text me. I wasn’t very clear.

In actuality, I understand, I advised her to care for herself and allow me to know what she chose. I was being my classic, flexible nice man. A mask I have worn often previously. A pleaser, a caretaker…before my mad jerk shows up.

Wow! Instantly, my jacked-upness deflates, like hot air gushing out of a balloon. I feel relieved, humbled, and even proud for pausing and viewing things.  Old patterns die hard, but with work die nonetheless.

I was pissed off at myself for not advocating for what I wanted. And I was ready to dump it {} , in the guise of”speaking my truth.”

I laugh. What an great realization.   A large mistake to educate me, to not wear the wonderful man / mr. trendy”all great” mask. But instead, to talk for what I need — respectfully. Superior stuff. I smile.

The Debrief 

So, what’s the takeaway here?  Just how easy it is to project at our partner exactly what we’re avoiding in ourselves.  And what a superpower in order to do otherwise.

A couple of questions to ask yourself the next time you are in conflict.

  • What am I upset about?
  • Is it at myself for not behaving a particular way?
  • How would I do the interaction differently next time?

The point is that we can always do better.  Ultimately, our best powers lie in the way we appear, not in how we could alter or control our spouse.   Sure, we could create requests.

And… love yourself when you screw up.  The comparison is moping, beating yourself up, and then projecting it in your relationship.

Remember, each of us is fully responsible for the connection, not one another.

And finally, it is not conflict in relationship that is the issue, but one’s inability to take care of it skillfully.

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Conflict in connection — it stinks. You know how it goes.

She says this. He says that. She gets angry. He gets pissed. Something hurtful is stated somewhere along the way. The two of you are triggered and feel very dangerous.

Two individuals, allegedly together, spin down different rabbit holes. Ideas fly off the handle.

Can I have a future with this person?

How many times can we do so?

Or perhaps with a mutual decision to revisit it later. No matter an inner frequency yells, You are not safe.

A couple of hours pass, or day or two, before you join with your spouse again. What happens to you?

Can you badger yourself with questions such as…

How do I make it better?
What can I do to make him (or her) love me?

For reference sake, let’s call this person #1.

Or maybe you’re full of projection and blame, thinking…

He always acts like this.

We’ll call this person #2.

Or perhaps you just shut it all out.  F*#k it, I do not need to deal with this shit. I will have a drink.

Or you calm down and say to yourself, It will be okay. Give her/him some time.

Person #4.

Which of the aforementioned are you?

Whichever you are, the common denominator is your chance to be with yourself at the wake. A opportunity to find out how you hold yourself.  How you’re in healthy self-relationship or not.

And most people will not go there — self-inquiry.  They will repeat the same patterns over and over, rather than doing the job of change and growth.  But that is not you or you would not be reading this.

“The way out of a trap is to be aware of the method by which in which the trap is built. Only then will it stop being a snare.”
— Marguerite Beecher, Beyond Success and Failure

Ok, what is your trap?  Let us unwind the dynamics over.

If you are individual #1, you wish to make things better before you have even had a chance to be on your own. You’re what is called a Fixer or Rescuer.

I understand that course well and lived it for several years. I wrote a publication with Repairing You from the name.

For a Fixer, your occupation during and after battle is to be with yourself. To self-regulate.  Deep breaths. Meditation. Walks. Whatever it takes.

Reduce the energy put into ideas of — Can she leave me? How do I make it better?

First and foremost, stop fixing your spouse as a method of avoiding yourself.  No longer — if she is ok, I could be ok. That is called self-betrayal.  Instead, ask yourself How can I be okay? How do I take care of myself? Time to be covetous.

If you are man #2, you are a blamer.  It is all blame, shame, and projection. You are essentially doing the same thing as individual #1, but your goal is your spouse, rather than yourself.  You do not try to fix but rather, you are prepared for war.

Like individual #1, you are not dealing with what is inside of you — the hurt, the disappointment, the despair. All you act on is the very best emotion of anger. And yet under anger is sadness. Get to your own sadness.

In blaming, you endeavor the hurt you are feeling onto your spouse as a means of not dealing with yourself. Perhaps they did actually do something wrong or say something stupid or hurtful, how do you return to them with compassion and strength?

For both men #1 and #2, it is about noticing what is happening within you, the emotions you are feeling. When the work isn’t done, results include lifelong codependency, victim consciousness, adultery, drug addiction, violence, and worse.

Individual #3 is an abdicator. He or she kicks the can down the street, checks out, and numbs. Again another way of not dealing with self and hard feelings. No fantastic relational results come for this individual either.

Person #4 is in fact the healthiest. She self-regulates by not freaking out. He knows that time heals and provides perspective. She cuts herself some slack. He gets out of his reptilian fight or flight system.

And yet, what’s not stated for individual #4 is healthful self-reflection.  To ask — Can I contribute to the battle? If so, how do I take responsibility for my part?

Person #4 isn’t the norm. For to this place requires grit and perseverance — working your way from the snare of reactivity, cultivating healthy self-relationship, and self-responsibility.

You don’t job, blame, fix, or numb. Instead, you take responsibility and honor yourself and your spouse.  What’s that look like?

Learn more next week in a piece entitled, “Release The Damage, Step Into Repair.”

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