I have been struck over the years how conflict in a relationship always comes down to the one thing: an unwillingness for each person to step into the other’s shoes, to really feel what it may be like to live their life, to be in the relationship from their perspective. We become attached to our version of events, so that whatever the other person may say or do gets slotted in to our storyline. And it’s not helped by the fact that our brains are programmed to fulfil our expectations, enabling the most unlikely scenario to be twisted to fit our way of seeing things.
Take Jill and John. John is gregarious and loud, when he has a grievance, however small, he doesn’t feel he’s expressed himself properly unless he’s really let off steam. Jill, on the other hand, is uncomfortable with strong emotions; she’s soft-spoken, and would never dream of confronting someone unless she felt that they had very seriously transgressed. After being a couple of some years, their relationship is in trouble. Because of John’s loud and lavish style of arguing, Jill has lost confidence and feels that there must be something very wrong with her: he gets angry so quickly and so often; not liking confrontation, she emotionally retreats to protect herself. This doesn’t go well with John, who sees Jill at these times as cold and uncaring. Does she not mind that he’s upset?
But if both Jill and John were to listen out for, and sense what the other was really saying and expressing underneath their different styles of communication, the conflict would begin to dissolve. However, to go beyond their own way of seeing the world, Jill and John both need to have sufficient trust in each other’s basic goodness to use their imaginations and enter the other’s world. Then, it would become clear that, deep down, the message is the same on both sides: “Respect and understand me and my needs; love me”. It’s just that John shouts it out, and Jill whispers it from behind a wall of protection.
Sarah offers both relationship coaching for individuals and couples counselling. To book a session, or find out more, please contact Sarah.