If you think about it, wars are often waged as a way of proving that each side is right. So what’s the point of being right? Is it the satisfaction of getting one’s way? Or is it the satisfaction of seeing the other party lose? In the world of intimate relationships WAR leads to emotional disconnection which can be a death nail for any relationship. Over and over, romantic partners are faced with a choice: Try to be right or return to love. Many run-away problems result from partners looking out for their best interest and not looking out for the interest of the partnership itself. Unfortunately, for many of us we find it is easier or more comfortable to be right and harder to understand our partner in times of strife and stress. Here are six ways of looking out for the best interest of the relationship and laying down the need to be right:
Physical attunement: The body doesn’t lie. Our partners may tell us one thing, but the body may be telling us what is really going on. In conflict, learn to track your partner’s physical nuances moment to moment when you are face to face. Notice the moistness in your partner’s eyes or dilated pupils (sign of fear). When we stop for a moment to notice these signs, we can pick up on many cues for early resolution and calm. During a fight, it very well may be that a partner has deeper feelings below the anger like sadness and fear. Attune to those emotions rather than locking into battle and see how a tense encounter can be defused.
Mindfulness: This is a really easy way to slow down your brain and turn off a fight response. A mindful state is one in which you are present with whatever is occurring without judgment. Many times it is not the emotion itself that we are struggling with but our response to it. Mindfulness is a great way to become more curious and patient with your partner’s reaction and open up ways to reconciliation and closeness.
Mirroring: Repeating back to your partner what you hear can be a great way to step out of one’s self and into relationship. A reflecting partner who says, “I hear that you are upset about what happened. This sounds like a hard thing for you,” is opening up the pathways to emotional attunement. Mirroring can have a disarming effect on a partner who wants to feel understood.
Bringing up a grievance as an act of love: Sometimes behind a grievance is a need for connection. It may be that one partner does not feel safe and needs solid footing and reassurance. Unfortunately, this deeper need is not always mentioned and comes across as complaining especially during times of stress. A grievance as an act of love can be a great reframe for a partner who feels attacked and takes complaints personally.
Negative Automatic Thinking: A need to be right can arise out of negative automatic perceptions of the other. A defensive stance can surface for one partner with the slightest perceived provocation or with no provocation at all: “This is how it always happens with us. I know where this is going. She is unhappy with the marriage and I don’t want to hear about it.” Emotional attunement instead of knee jerk assumptions can be fast way to understanding. It very well may be that the negative thought is not true. Let a return to love open up the truth.
Cooling off period. Sometimes it is hard to return to love in the heat of battle. It may be that both of you are too upset and angry. Take a 25 minute break and give your body enough time to return to calm. An accelerated heart rate is a good sign of overwhelm. Ten beats per minute over a normal heart rate can mean that your body is swimming in adrenaline or cortisol (hormones preparing us for WAR!). In this state, it can be a good idea to take a break and return later to continue a conversation.