Arguments don’t end when one person overpowers another. Bringing out the big guns — threats, name-calling, insults, loud yelling — always exacts a painfully high price. We may intimidate our partner into submission, thus winning the battle for momentary dominance, but this does not win us the war. It’s a temporary truce, which creates tension because the conflict has merely been driven underground. The cost is a loss of trust, goodwill, caring, and respect.
For years, Marcella reacted to Jared's unsolicited criticism with counter-criticism. This reactive pattern never resulted in either of them feeling accepted or understood. So what if they were both right? It didn’t matter. It wasn’t until she stopped saying, “You never listen to me,” and, “You always have to be right,” that the impasse between them began to dissolve. Instead, Marcella said, “I really want us to understand each other, and it’s so painful for me when we don’t connect.” When she revealed her own frustration and pain rather than “correcting” Jared's responses. The tension between them softened and they were better able to hear each other.
Finding the Courage to be Vulnerable
To move toward resolution during times of distress, we need to do what we desire most to avoid — find the courage to be vulnerable. The peace of understanding will not result from efforts to get our partner to back down, stop fighting, and listen to us. It will instead result from the openness that arises when we are willing to disarm ourselves of our verbal defenses. Personal disarmament is the act of standing undefended and speaking the heart’s truth even in the face of fear.
The more Marcella practiced, the less fearful she felt, and the more natural it became for her to drop her guard. She found that courageous honesty almost always brings forth the same from the other person. But regardless of how our partner responds to us, undefended communication is itself a transformative gift to ourselves as well as to our relationship. In honoring our truth, we deepen the development of self-trust, self-worth, and self-respect, while simultaneously bringing greater honesty and integrity into our marriage. When we give what we desire to receive, the process always becomes its own reward.
Contacting the Deeper Truth
Vulnerability provides us with greater integrity and greater access to our own heart and the deeper truth of our own experience. Speaking from vulnerability connects us with ourselves and creates a safe climate for our mutual love and tenderness to blossom. That’s a success in itself. The gift to our partner is our openheartedness — the access to our sweet, kind, warm feelings that lie just beneath the surface of the criticisms and conflict.
Linda Bloom L.C.S.W. has served as psychotherapist and seminar leader practicing relationship counseling almost forty years. Check out her OMTimes Bio.
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