The hard part of human relationship. We all know it! This post focuses on partnerships, but is equally applicable to the wide range of relationships that we find ourselves in throughout life. Parent/child, friend, sibling, extended family, etc. Often conflict arises with those we are closest to in our lives, because (hopefully) we feel safe enough to say the hard stuff (ie: we know “this person will still love me even though I do not agree,” or “this person will not leave if we argue,” etc…).
Navigating waters that are murky with the past, and all our hurts and memories new and old can be incredibly frustrating because so much more can come into play than the issue at hand. The challenge is not to become wrapped up in the other person’s problems and at the same time being cogniscent of the triggers within us that cause us to become defensive, distant, judgemental, and so on.
In partnerships, how can we be healthily involved in the other person’s life and support them as they deal with their problems? What do we do when those problems inevitably knock on our own doors?
As families mesh (or don’t), as children are born, as people die, divorce, move in, move out, move away, life can become a fertile ground for “family problems” and will become a garden of overgrown weeds if we are not careful to tend to it. As a family of four we have had a crash course in imperfect boundary setting over the last two years with our first and second child born within 13 months of each other. Here are some ideas that I find to be helpful when Shit. Gets. Hard.
#1 See yourself, first.
Try to understand your own reaction before you go criticizing the other. I am often amazed at how humans unconsciously seek out the relationships and situations they need to heal their own issues. One of our biggest jobs as partners and as parents is to realize that our relationship is an incredibly opportunity to see ourselves, to open up and be vulnerable, to name and heal the things that hold us back, and to grow- separately and together.
#2 Take a time out.
Gather yourself. Calm yourself. People in close relationship learn each other’s triggers, fast. As you react to something the other person says or does, step away and take a few minutes to ask yourself what you are really feeling. Are you reacting from a place within yourself that is carrying an old hurt, fear, or anger? Notice it if you can. Name it if you can. Ask yourself, “why?” Think of this as…an opportunity (A stretch? Maybe. But only because it will never feel like an opportunity at the time).
#3 Come back!
This is so important and it can be so easy to just let an argument or an uncomfortable situation fizzle out. It WILL lay under the surface and gather strength, so don’t let the sleeping beast lie. Talk about it. Take turns. Cry. Laugh. Listen. Let the person know that you are always there for them even if you don’t agree with them.
While these steps are helpful in handling and healing conflict in our relationships, I want to leave you with this: The most important step you can take is to work on yourself. The inner work you do, and there are many ways to do it, will yield positive results in all areas of your life. Your well-being or lack thereof isn’t any one else’s job, any one else’s fault, any one else’s responsibility!