The truth of the man I wanted to be came to me in the midst of one of our regular, marital fights. It can come to you, too (without the squabbling).
We’ve all been around the block, right? We weren’t born yesterday, and we know the Real Deal about Real Relationships in the Real World: “You’re going to fight sometimes; that’s just the way it is. You’re two human beings, and you’re not always going to get along.”
Well, as a therapist, and a man, and a human being and a spirit, I am taking a stand: this is a lie.
The truth is this: you never need to fight or argue again in your relationship.
That’s right–never. And I don’t care who tells you differently. I don’t care if it’s your parents or your friends (or other relationship experts like them). I don’t care if it’s pop songs or arthouse movies or Dr. Phil.
And if it’s your therapist telling you that you’re just going to fight sometimes, then you should fire them and give me a call, seriously. Because if you’re in a relationship where you are unhappy some of the time, that’s like eating at a restaurant where the food is poisoned some of the time.
That’s not OK. That’s why it’s a lie. Food should never be poisoned, it should be washed and mixed and cooked to make it nourishing and delicious.
The whole point, the only point, to being in a relationship is for you and your partner to feel amazing through your connection with each other. Anything else is not cool. And you can achieve this no matter how unlikely it may feel at the moment–if both of you are clear about the man and the woman you want to be.
I speak from experience: my wife and I never fight, ever, and we are just two normal, ordinary, (and really cool) people–who used to fight and argue all the time.
That means we yelled at each other, yes, but to be clear: by fight or argue, I also include any behavior in which you treat your partner like an opponent. Making little mean comments, or giving each other the silent treatment, or running away, or shutting down–that’s all fighting, too. It’s toxic behavior.
We all look at the darkness in the world, the various horrors of violence, sickness and injustice, the environmental devastation, and we all wonder what we can really do to make a difference.
Here’s one way: stop fighting in your relationship.
It’s all part of the same darkness. It’s all a form of violence on this earth, where there should be love and light. The world is not a safe place. We all know that, and have limited control over that sad fact. But the relationship, the home, is our own creation where we have absolute power. It can be–it is supposed to be–the one place that is so safe you can be physically naked, emotionally vulnerable and free to develop special potentials within yourself that might never have had a supportive environment before. These are the very needs driving you into your relationship. This space of safety is not a fantasy. It is your birthright.
Developmental psychology tells us that life is a series of tasks through which we empower ourselves to take responsibility for our lives, by taking right action, rather than by lashing out emotionally when faced with the discomfort.
In fact, as we look at the situations and underlying issues about which we argue, we can easily identify the relevant age at which our emotional development was arrested. The good news is that simple techniques such as mindfulness can develop these “emotional muscles” to the level of our “true” age–thus creating great strength and inner peace.
We can further look at the impulse to fight as a coping mechanism that kicks in when we are afraid we will not get what we need, and thus feel our happiness is out of our control. We then attempt to compensate for this perceived loss of power through the use of force – the raised voice, or perhaps emotional manipulation.
All the while, we never realize the real source of power, peace and strength is within ourselves.
When we train ourselves to access this source–again, through techniques such as mindfulness as well as when we receive guidance from the right mentors–we experience ourselves as completely self-responsible, and capable of creating the lives and relationships our hearts are called to experience.
In addition to being a therapist, I am a Sufi teacher, and in the Sufi way we say that “all reflected entities are the ranks of your being.” What this means is that your entire life is a spiritual journey in which the most profound reality of who you are, the highest potential of your soul, is seeking to manifest and express itself. All the challenges in your life are actually situations which you have attracted to yourself, in order to develop yourself and fulfill this highest potential. And therefore, the challenge in your relationship is actually the test that your soul must pass, to get to the next level of who you want to be.
It is for this reason that spiritual masters will tell you that every painful conflict that arises between you and your partner, is actually–right there–in that moment(!) the chance to set yourself free from everything inside yourself that has ever made you unhappy. This occurs by transforming your emotional and psychological reactive habits, and the false pictures of who you “are”, which generated your defensive patterns in the first place.
I will never forget the turning point in my own marriage. My wife was arguing with me about something, I don’t remember what. I think it was the dishes. She was accusing me of all kinds of things I “knew” were not true; of being selfish, and not being honest about my motivations, of not caring about her.
She was yelling at me.
It was time for another fight, just like the others; like the ones we had all the time, except…
Today was different. I guess all my professional and spiritual training kicked in. Maybe you could say all I wanted for myself, and for us–it rose to the surface or descended from above, whatever, but it pushed everything else out of the way. It filled my being and I felt a sudden knowing inside, a true calm. I said:
“My Beloved (yes, I said that, and I meant it!), there is nothing I want to fight with you about. If you see it one way and I see it another way, that doesn’t make me mad at you. And it shouldn’t make you mad at me. I care about how you feel. I don’t ever want you to feel bad in our relationship. Let’s work through this problem together in love, to understand why we see it differently, and how we can problem-solve together so we can both feel okay with everything. There is nothing for us to fight about.”
To which my wife responded by making fun of me, imitating my gentle voice and expression, as she put her face tauntingly close to my own and purred: “Ohhh, so you’re a therapist now…and you speak in this quiet voice….and you’re so much better than me…and I’m just a crazy bitch.”
Oh, how that hurt!
All I wanted for her to do was throw her arms around me and say, “Wow, Ray, you are so awesome! So cool and smart and reasonable. You are so right and I love you so much!”
Yes, this felt like a kick in the guts. And at that point, there were a couple of things I could have said.
But instead, it just came to me, the truth.
I simply spoke my truth and said, in all vulnerability, and sincerity: “I am being the man I want to be.”
With those words, I set us both free. On another day, it might have been her–my wife is a good, wise woman. But the way it worked out, it happened to be me.
I continued: “The man I want to be doesn’t have anything to argue with you about. I love you, and I care about how you feel, and I don’t care about being right. If I’m wrong, I want to know I’m wrong. I want to know how I can be a better man, and I am committed to being the best man and the best husband I can be. I just want the two of us to care about each other and problem-solve together. And I care that you are hurting.”
I did not want to argue, and I did not have to. I had the power to be the man I wanted to be, to create the relationship I wanted. I didn’t even need her validation.
What did she do? She said something that still accused me of being a jerk, basically….and I still had the option of fighting back. Instead I told her, again, with sincerity and vulnerability:
“I don’t deserve the way you are talking to me. I really want to work together with you. I sincerely care about how you feel, but I don’t think you are being reasonable. But–I think after a while you will be reasonable, and I really look forward to talking this out with you, and learning how we can solve this, and love, and support each other.”
Sure enough, a few hours later, she wanted to talk. By me being true to myself, it created the space for her to be true to herself, to the woman she wanted to be. I had simply cared about her, and about myself. When I showed that to her, she returned it to me.
From that day forward everything changed. We had set a new way of communicating in motion, and over time this became total and complete.
Be the man or woman you want to be. Find the place inside of you that cares about your partner’s pain. Speak from your heart to show them that you see them, and get them, and care about them, but still honor yourself. It will bust everything wide open.
When you commit to not fighting, you are taking responsibility for your space in the world. The ripple effects of two fulfilled humans who do not project their own loveless pain into their surroundings will be profound. If you have children in the house, you commit to teaching, healing and blessing them. The same is true for your friends and co-workers. You become a healer, a leader and all as a side effect of existing in a state of great inner peace.
We live in a time of daily mind-blowing accumulating breakthroughs: space exploration, nanotechnology and 3D printers, new computers, medicines and energy technologies. The possibilities seem limitless. All of these exist, presumably, to improve the quality of our lives.
Of course, we all know even with all of these breakthroughs, without love, our lives can never really be that fulfilling.
It is time for the next breakthrough. It is time for the breakthrough to real, unconditional love without compromise as a possibility for all of us, in our relationships, in our everyday lives, our everyday speech and actions. Without compromise–the men and women we really want to be.
This love has been our birthright, our true nature and our highest, most profound aspiration since we first became. It is time to truly be.
Photo credit: Getty Images