I'd like to elaborate on an entry I wrote ("Our Wives Hate Us") last week, and go further by exploring how to resolve conflict when it comes up in our relationships. The context of the aforementioned article was marriages struggling with infidelity, so I will talk about what this looks like when we encounter possible deal breakers, and how it's different, yet can still be applied with daily, or smaller issues that come up.
I'll begin by saying that often the things we think are deal breaker, can look or feel completely different once we're in them. You may never tolerate someone being unfaithful -- that is your choice. I've found that in many situations in life, that which we automatically thought we'd do is not what we decide once we are actually faced with the situation. That's ok. Part of our work as human beings having the opportunity to be alive includes the need to figure shit out. Sometimes it's something we don't want to do, and sometimes it's in situations we never thought we'd find ourselves in...nonetheless, we have to do something, so we might as well respond to the best of our abilities.
These questions will help you take a step back, gain greater perspective, and guide you through how to align with your highest priorities. Here we go...
- What is at stake? Take an inventory of where you are. If I'm six weeks into a relationship, I may look at infidelity differently than if I were married with three kids. This is because I'm willing to cut my losses at six weeks of my life, and treat such behavior as a red flag for which to do so. The more that is at stake, the more difficult this decision becomes, but it makes it simpler at the same time: there's a lot on the line, what's most important to you?
- What do I need? If I know that I'm heartbroken, but I don't know what I need...I can get stuck in the emotional upheaval. The most wonderful thing about this question is when we pause to ask ourselves it, we will always receive an answer. You'll have a thought or idea, your subconscious will make something known to you. Use this circumstance as a reason to get to know yourself more intimately, to feel what you need feel, and to acknowledge what you need.
- What does my partner need? If we can have the wherewithal to ask what need is driving my partner's actions, we will get much further in understanding the underpinnings of our current dynamic. If we haven't been intimate for months, and have been feeling disconnected, there's a part of him/her who gave up on getting their physical and/or emotional needs met within the relationship. If we know and communicate our needs to one another, and desire to meet them for each other, we are much more likely to be able to resolve a potential issue within the relationship before it escalates to the extent of infidelity. On a lighter note, being in a mindset of, how can I make my partner feel good, what does him/her need, and what do I want to do for them to make that happen?, will improve the quality of your relationship ten-fold. We all too often give others what we need because we assume they want the same things...don't make this assumption, learn the needs of your partner, as well as know what your needs are too.
- Are we sorry? Nothing can resolve an issue as quickly, or delay a resolution so long as the offering, or absence, of a genuine, heartfelt apology. If you feel bad, apologize. Apologize for what you feel badly about, and be specific (I'm sorry for...). It's ok to ask for an apology too. They don't have to give you one, but they may not have thought of it, but either way, you'll learn a bit about how this person operates. Ask yourself, "Is this conflict worth keeping alive because I'm too stubborn to apologize, or more dedicated to being right?"
- Are we willing to change? If we're willing to change, then we decide together what that looks like, how it's going to happen, and how we are going to stay accountable. It may take professional help, so be willing to find the solutions that best support your success. If you're not willing to change, then that needs to be acknowledged too. What is then more important in this situation? What needs to be accepted as is? What am I unwilling to compromise on? Is this realistic? If your expectation sets the other person up for failure, then this will breed even deeper conflict. Lastly, ask yourself, "What am I so hung up on? What am I so unwilling to do?"
- Are we willing to forgive? If I refuse to forgive you, our relationship is over. It's that simple. Furthermore, if I'm going to forgive, I have to mean it with my entire being. What happened is over. It is in the past. Do you want to keep inviting it into the present? The emotional residue (pain, distrust, anger, grief, resentment, etc.) will keep it alive. So understanding your emotions, and processing them is crucial. The same goes for behavior...doing the same things that created the issue in the first place will recreate it again. Have amends been made? How does it feel to let go of the pain, and surrendering it to the past?
- Do I still love you? If you no longer love each other, or one person no longer feels love for the other, you're treading on dangerous terrain. If I still love you, I am much more likely to want to work through difficult times. Once the love is gone, the quality of the relationship that remains will continue to decline unless major changes occur.
- How do we rebuild trust and respect? If you've gotten this far, and have both committed to rebuilding trust and respect, then you must decide together what that looks like, and what the terms are. Deeming this as the start of greater transparency and honesty between you, and seeing this as a something you didn't allow to destroy you, will slowly begin fortifying the foundation of your relationship.
- Do we want to rebuild? It's one thing to know what needs to be done, yet it's quite another to want to do the work. Are you committed to healing the past and moving forward? Are you both willing to do what it takes? Do you know in your heart that this is what you want more than anything? That's how badly you have to want it...anything less may not be strong enough.
If we look at these questions, and treat them as a self-discovery process, we will also become better partners along the way. If we genuinely want to know, understand, and love each other, our love, commitment, and resilience has to be stronger than the forces against them. Our fractures have to be reinforced and healed, and not broken the same way again and again. As long as we show up to create the strongest love we can share together, the causes that fractured it will teach us, and bring us closer rather than tear us apart. How will we allow the experiences we have to define us? What are the experiences we seek to co-create? Who are we when we come from a place of creating the best relationships we can?