What is this simple way to avoid turning disagreements into arguments? It boils down to one thing: changing statements which begin with ‘you’, to start with ‘I’ instead!
In other words, if I’m feeling angry or upset with my partner, instead of telling her what I think she’s done wrong, – or even worse, what I think is wrong with her – I simply tell her how I’m feeling in response to what she’s said or done (or not done). It’s not always easy, especially if I’m afraid that those feelings might seem ‘weak’ or oversensitive – in other words not very ‘manly’ – to her. But the truth is, whenever I’m able to do this, she responds with love and support – and has told me that she thinks I’m more of a man for having had the courage to be vulnerable with her! All of which makes me feel validated –not to mention that sense of a weight being lifted or pressure being taken off – none of which can happen when feelings are buried or suppressed.
I used to do that with emotions that I didn’t feel very good about, and without fail they would come back later, this time with more force, and probably expressed in an unhealthy way through anger or aggression. I’ve learned that it’s always better to share my feelings – no matter how embarrassed I might be about that to start with.
Most of us know from experience that being told by a partner what (in their opinion) we have done wrong is likely to make us feel defensive or even angry. And usually the more ‘right’ we feel she is, the more shame it makes us feel. And because shame is something that most of us are instinctively desperate to avoid, the more defensive we’ll get. I know I did, anyway. I was susceptible to worrying if I had fallen short as a man in some way, and even when I knew I had behaved selfishly or thoughtlessly, it was difficult for me to accept responsibility because of the pain that the feeling of shame it brought. I used to do everything I could to either project blame onto someone else, or refuse to hear or accept the truth. And the more she presented evidence to me of my error, the more I felt compelled to deny it – even to myself!
This ended up in a negative spiral of accusations and defensiveness that would build on itself to the point that it fractured the trust between us and even sometimes led tragically to the ending of a relationship. But when I take the risk of opening up to my partner, being vulnerable by inviting her to know more about me at a deeper level and giving her the chance to respond with caring, so she can see that if I upset her it was probably because of a limited knowledge about what’s important to her. And I now have the chance to show my love for her and my integrity by setting that right. And vice versa, of course.
Using “I” statements are fundamental this process, and when I approach disagreements in this way, I find that conflict, instead of being something to be afraid of or avoid because it will be painful, can be welcomed as a real opportunity to learn more about myself and about my partner A chance for us to dig deeper into who we both are and our understanding of each other, with the result that we start to live in a way that is closer to our true selves and at the same time become closer to each other. It takes any fear and shame out of the equation so that we can both be confident in being known for who we really are, rather than trying to fit what we think our partner wants from us. I can’t think of a better way to live or to cultivate and grow love.
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