Are Arguments Ruining Your Relationship?
Underwater, in the shadow of a fallen and submerged tree lurks a four pound largemouth bass. This fish is hungry, and is stalking its territory for something good to eat.
Suddenly a fishing lure wobbles past this hungry fish. In a flash, the fish responds and grabs the bait. But what a surprise! Instead of tasty nourishment, the fish is now fighting for its life.
Like A Fish, We Take The Bait Every Time We Argue
Our partner makes a critical remark, and bang, like a fish, we swallow the lure, hook and all. And we feel the sharp pain immediately.
And Then What Happens?
We withdraw, don’t we? We pull back, and put some distance in between ourselves and the one we love. The cold treatment crops up immediately, and it can last for days, or weeks, or months, or even years.
Do you ever wonder how some relationships drift apart? It can start with a simple hurt, and the distance grows from there.
But It Gets Worse Than That
The cold treatment, though viciously intended and uncomfortable to bear, is only part of it. When you think you’ve been hurt in an argument, you start looking for ways to attack. Your lover is no longer your lover, he or she becomes your enemy.
You watch everything your partner does, hoping to see when he or she trips up. And then you jump in like a tiger for the kill. Compassion is not even a second thought. You want to catch your spouse red-handed. You want vengeance.
This is the kind of vengeance that used to set up family feuds for generations. One family would kill someone, and then the other would avenge the killing. Back and forth the killing would continue for centuries. Hate building on hate.
So How Do We Stop The Hate?
To stop the hate, we have to slow things down. We can’t depend on instincts. When instincts rule, we grab the bait every time, just like the fish. A fish has no choice when instincts rule.
But we are not fish. We are not bound by instinct alone. We are way more intelligent than that. If we were a fish under water, with our full human intelligence intact, we might swim on over to the lure and check it out.
“Is it really food?” we might think. “I remember when Bob got picked up by a lure once. Could this be one of those? Let’s take a look. Is there a hook inside this juicy morsel? Or is this just plastic? It looks a lot like other lures I have seen.”
When You Slow Things Down, You See The Truth
And when you see the truth, you avoid the pain. When you slow things down, you see that you have a choice in how you want to interpret what your spouse is saying.
Is he being critical? Or is he actually trying to be helpful? Maybe he’s being critical just because he’s feeling stressed about something else. Or maybe he’s trying to tell you something, and knows no other way to do it.
These more generous thoughts don’t arise when you’re working from the level of instinct. You just grab onto what he says and start thrashing, fighting for your life.
But How Do You Slow Things Down?
This seems like an impossible task. There’s no time in an argument to slow it down. In the blink of an eye, you are engaged in full scale warfare. How can you possibly slow it down and avoid the pain?
The answer is, you can’t always slow things down in the moment. But you can take what happened and examine it closely afterwards. And when it happens next time, you’ll be much more aware of what is happening. You will see choices (other than swallowing the bait) even in the split second before the argument begins.
So How Do You Examine Things After An Argument?
My favorite way to do it, is a process called The Work of Byron Katie. The process starts out by filling in a Judge-Your-Neighbor worksheet. After the argument, you sit down by yourself and write down all the judgments, all the injustices, that you were feeling when you were in the thick of the argument.
Then you take that written snapshot of your stressed-out mind and bring it to a facilitation session. Your facilitator of The Work will help you question the validity of everything you put on paper. The things you took for granted in that situation can be questioned. And you may find that your partner wasn’t as vicious as you thought.
The Work is not about changing your partner or your spouse. The Work is about taking responsibility for your own happiness. In this simple, introspective process you may discover that your peace is not your partner’s responsibility, it’s yours. And you can remain peaceful even when your partner is apparently attacking you.
But Isn’t Arguing Healthy?
Some people say that arguing makes a healthy relationship. It’s true, speaking your mind is healthy. And disagreeing is healthy too. It represents integrity. And all strong relationships are built on integrity.
But if a certain threshold is crossed, and the argument hurts our pride, then the disagreement becomes a wedge to drive us apart. It’s not the verbal disagreement that’s at fault. It’s the way we are interpreting the disagreement that hurts.
By doing The Work on all the beliefs we have running that color our interpretation, we can remove the painful side, and be left with just clean disagreement. Growth and learning stem from disagreement. The Work allows you to welcome disagreement without getting hurt by it.
I Used To Get Hurt By My Partner’s Direct Speech
He’s very direct in what he says. He tells me when he thinks I’m being obsessive. He calls me on the rug when he thinks I’m working too hard. He’s always in my business, it seems. And that sometimes gets me infuriated.
This infuriation was much worse before I started doing The Work on my partner. I wrote, and I still write, Judge-Your-Neighbor worksheets on him whenever I notice that he’s made me mad again.
And I take these worksheets and examine them with a facilitator. The result has been remarkable for me. The trapped feeling I used to have, the anger that I harbored, have diminished by about 80-90%. And I’m still working it.
Recently, I’ve noticed that critical statements from my partner don’t get my back up at all. I can see myself almost grabbing the bait. The luring “fighting words” float past my face, and I almost snatch them up. But because I’ve worked similar situations, I see clearly how I hurt myself every time I do. And I let those words float by instead. The freedom in this is indescribable.
So Why Let Things Escalate?
If you find that arguments with your spouse are stressful, take some time to see what they are teaching you. Download a Judge-Your-Neighbor worksheet here. And find a facilitator of The Work to help you question your assumptions from heat of your argument.
Instead of swallowing the bait like a largemouth bass, you can just watch as the lure floats by. And as you do this, you may find yourself drawn closer to your partner. You may start to see that he or she is on your side after all. And if it turns out that he or she is not on your side, you may find understanding for why they’d be that way.
Watch For Your Next Argument
Don’t let it slip by unexamined. You stand to gain a lot from it. Just after the argument, fill in a Judge-Your-Neighbor worksheet,” and find a facilitator to work it with you as soon as you can. With a little work, you’ll find that it’s not necessary to swallow the barbed hook every time you argue.
Todd Smith is a facilitator of The Work of Byron Katie. To get started with The Work, a facilitator can help you get the most out of this simple process. You can schedule an appointment with Todd here.
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