We had gotten into such a “knotted up” and painful relationship that we began to see no way out except divorce. But this brought up a greater problem. We were in the midst of raising four children and neither of us was willing to give them up.
What were we to do?
Fortunately we came upon some life saving information. Well, at least relationship saving!
We discovered that in every conversation we make a choice to either protect ourselves in some way, or learn from the other.
Difficult relationships become power struggles when people try to protect rather than learn.
Defending one’s position rather than asking open ended questions in simply a method of protecting our opinions.
Protection is territorial and causes power struggles.
As we read this astounding, and yet so simple truth, we immediately realized this was the source of our problems.
We were in a continuous power struggle, doing our best to protect ourselves from further hurt. We didn’t believe the other person was right.
As Jerry Jampolsky so famously asked: “Would you rather be happy or right?”
Being right seemed more important than learning what was causing the problem. And it wasn’t the other person!
We were afraid to let go of our position because we didn’t trust the flow of life that is an adventure into the unknown.
It was either protect or learn.
Were we more interested in defending our position (which we supported in various ways) or learning more about the other person’s views, and drawing them out so that we could actually begin to see the world from their vantage point?
Will we allow ourselves to be changed by the other? Or are we demanding change from the other? The latter is an uphill battle.
Since there was really nothing to lose and everything to gain, we stepped into this new process.
We made the commitment to learn, which meant we had to give up blaming. And this had become a habit.
Instead of blaming we began questioning (not demanding or putting the other person on the spot) them about their views. What did they really mean? And what else?
We found the fear that we thought protected us came from early childhood experiences, which we began sharing—the ways we had been wounded.
We committed to telling each other the emotional truth.
Of course this made us vulnerable, which was another test for the relationship. If either of us tried to use what was shared against the other, we knew this relationship was destructive and needed to be broken.
Each time the conversation began to heat up we stopped and checked our motive. Sometimes we had to go into separate rooms to discover what was really taking place within us—what we were afraid of losing, or sharing.
Sharing our vulnerable places made all the difference for it is only in these soft underbelly places that true connection is made.
Within each of us are early childhood experiences in which we truly were not able to defend ourselves and we felt harmed in some way—innocently or not. As a small child we were dependent on the others around us.
They were large. The big people had the power. And they didn’t always use wisdom, as they were muddling through life the best they could.
Knowing this does not heal. It is only the beginning.
Feeling, emotions, lie beneath our thoughts. Our ideas can always be disagreed with. But when someone doesn’t respect our emotions for what they are—when they ignore them put them down as unimportant and incorrect—we are not safe with them.
To learn more on this, I refer you to the book Non-Violent Communication by Norman Rosenberg. He clarifies the difference between thoughts, feelings and needs and how to share them in conversation. His website has much helpful information about relationship.
By practicing these tools my husband and I became true friends. We trusted each other to help and support our well-being.
Each of us needs a trusted friend. If we don’t have a partner that we feel safe sharing with then I suggest finding a wise counselor, spiritual director or minister.
I believe we are here in this body to learn, to grow spiritually, and to express what our soul yearns to express.
There is love for each of us to give. And giving love when it is difficult, when our ego wants to lash out and protect ourselves from further hurt is a powerful moment to make a new choice.
After those painful 15 years of struggle and pain my husband and I shared many more years of happiness. I believe our souls expanded as we enjoyed our relationship with all our flaws and mistakes. We found a ways of relating that were blame free and thus healed.
My husband left this planet about a dozen years ago. I trust he is still on that learning curve. I certainly am.