A committed relationship must be one of the most challenging self-development programs out there. One skill I am continually trying to develop is learning how to disagree in an authentic yet graceful way.
Many a book has recommended a few basic ground rules such as no yelling or choosing the right time to talk or avoiding words like “always” or “never”. The problem is that in the midst of heightened emotions, the ground rules often get thrown out the window. Too often, people feel the emotions and either lash out unthinkingly to get a response or retreat into an angry simmering for fear of dealing with open conflict.
Before any ground rules could work, each person in the relationship needs, first, to have a high level of self-awareness such that they are able to see their emotional state and articulate it. With awareness comes the potential to be able to conduct oneself better under duress.
Easy enough in theory, but think about what personal capacities you would need to have:
- The ability to disagree or not understand each other and be okay with the uncertainty.
- The ability to feel deep hurt or embarrassment or disappointment and still think clearly about the situation.
- The ability to see the bigger picture even while feeling as if the emotions encompass the whole world.
- The ability to be vulnerable even in the midst of anger or hurt.
- The ability to risk the relationship by being truthful.
- The ability to let some things go because it just isn’t worth it.
- The ability to admit error and take ownership of it in the situation.
- The ability to reflect on internal responses and figure out why they happened.
- The ability to change habits.
- The ability to co-create a solution with another person.
It’s a heck of thing trying to find out what triggers our unproductive behaviours. We want to believe that we are righteous in our feelings because it could not feel otherwise. But there can be a big gulf between the trigger and the reality. We are complex beings. A tiger jumping out a bush should trigger us to run or fight. A misspoken word or an unforgivable deed requires something more of us.