When we get into a fight or argument, or in any way feel scared or less-than the other person, we tend to imbue them with qualities that somehow lift them above what we’re experiencing internally. Changing how you see that makes a massive difference to how you relate to and see people, and how scary they come across to you.
Life Coaches Toolbox is an interesting marriage of my two passions: coaching and fixing people, and then art, in this case websites. When I build each tool or diagnostic, a lot of thought goes into ensuring that the user gets a complete coaching experience from using that tool, so I spend time building the lessons into the interface.
One of my favorite tools I’ve built so far is a tool for managing conflict in relationships. As part of the tool, the couple jointly selects, from a checklist, behaviors that they deem are not acceptable within conflict situations. As a second part of that tool, I ask the couple to then identify, from a checklist, behaviors that are acceptable within conflict situations, including behaviors like:
- It’s okay to want a hug
- It’s okay to ask for a hug
- It’s okay to feel overwhelmed and need a break
There’s not a single behavior listed that doesn’t show emotional vulnerability in some way in fact.
The point of the exercise is to show the couple that they both experience those kinds of vulnerable emotions and needs within these situations, so that they can see each other in a new light and with new awareness. This will hopefully enable them to communicate from the heart within conflict, instead of falling prey to defensiveness.
We’re our own worst enemies
How often have you sat in a fight – or after a break up – and thought to yourself: ‘This must be so easy for the other person?’ or ‘They’re so heartless’ or ‘They just want to hurt me?’
When you’re thinking these kinds of thoughts, it’s easy to label the other person as the enemy. When they’re in that camp, your system is going to respond as if it is facing an enemy:
- Fight or flight will kick in, meaning you’re thinking on instinct and not with your full rational capability
- You get defensive or go on the attack
- You purposefully say mean things so you can hurt the person first
- You purposefully raise sensitive topics to try and hurt the person, first to make up for the hurt and fear you’re feeling, as if somehow hurting them will balance it all out, and second to try and throw them off balance so that you can again feel superior to them, instead of less than
What’s the alternative?
When you’re in a conflict situation like that, it’s nearly impossible to think rationally and focus on inner voice or remembering a process. The solution is to do what will come the easiest: be absolutely honest.
The reason honesty will come easily is that it’s all you’re able to think about right now, so you will firstly achieve relief just by getting the words out of your system. Secondly, it’s easy because you don’t have to think or focus or make it up, and genuine always comes across as genuine.
So say what’s on your mind:
- I feel really scared right now
- Wait, can we take a second? I don’t know what’s happening here.
- I’m starting to feel like you don’t love me – can I have a hug so that I feel safe again please?
This will work for the same reason the tool works in the course: by showing your vulnerability you allow your partner to see you in an entirely different light, changing their stance from defensive to loving again.
Because they no longer feel threatened, and they can see that you mirror their turmoil and fear, it dissipates an enormous amount of tension in the situation. And far from making you seem weak or pathetic, showing your vulnerability gives you relief and creates a safe space for the other party to do the same.
When people feel comfortable and heard, they’re always willing to work alongside you and for the greater good.
Fighting Quick Fix
Often, we land up doing more damage inside the fight after the event than what was caused by the event itself.
One of the reasons for this is that we don’t know what to say, but we want to communicate. Because we’re often in a defensive or aggressive pose at that stage, we land communicating harshly, even though our intention is to get the communication ball rolling again so that we can fix stuff.
A simple strategy is to use the Ho’oponopono Forgiveness statement with each other: ‘I’m sorry, I love you, I forgive you, please forgive me’. It gives you something to say, a head start on the forgiveness work and it helps dissipate the tension between you so that you can start communicating honestly and from your hearts.
It also mitigates the chance that you land up saying something silly and hurtful that does untold damage.