My wife and I have been married for over 40 years, and we have had countless conflicts in that time. And we are still happily married and quite in love with each other. What’s our secret? It’s simple. Here are some basic principles that have worked well for us:
- Fight to resolve, not to hurt.
- Remember that I can be right or I can be in relationship. I can’t have both.
- Hang in there,
- Drop my defenses.
- Own my shit.
Fight to Resolve
Conflict in a relationship is not a zero-sum game. It should never be about winning. Instead, conflict should be a healthy exploration of a lack of clear understanding about what is happening inside each of us.
I gave this as advice to my daughter and son-in-law when they got married. Now, 15 years later, they are very happy and have two beautiful daughters.
Right or Relationship?
This one is pretty basic and pretty ancient. Needing to be right means I want to beat her argument into the mud. That means she looses and I win. Not a great formula for deepening connection.
Hang In There
There is some merit to the old phrase, “Don’t go to bed angry.” This means that we must keep looking at what broke down until we reach an agreement and a resolution. We may take time-outs. We may get frustrated. We may get angry, but we hang in there until we reach clarity.
Drop My Defenses
When I put up my defenses, I am blocking real connection. The more aware I am of how I defend and what is happening in the present moment, the more wisely I can choose how I show up.
Own my Shit
Sitting on my desk are a bunch of labels, each with some quote that I value. Two that get my attention every day are:
If I am triggered, it’s my shit.
If you are triggered, it’s your shit.
These are reminders to own and take responsibility for my part of any conflict and to set clean boundaries about taking responsibility for stuff that doesn’t belong to me, like whatever it is that you might be triggered by.