MAINTAINING A NON-ANXIOUS PRESENCE
Here’s a good trick if you can manage it. I admit, it’s not an easy one but if you can do it, it will help you. Just try to stay calm when your partner is upset, without withdrawing, either emotionally or physically. This will change everything about your experience of a conflict including, most importantly, the outcome.
If you think I’m overstating the difficulty of this, try it for yourself. Some people may be able to do it readily but I know the majority cannot. For most of us, this is a bit of a struggle and doesn’t come naturally. Instinctively we abhor nondefensiveness and when we feel attacked or even confronted, we lash out immediately in hurt and anger. Most of us are either too reactive to stay calm or too reactive to stay present. Some, hoping to avoid the discomfort of confrontation are so unreactive they are never really present. This is the famously unhelpful, unpleasant and unloving behavior known as “stonewalling”. Stay away from that one.
In practice, what nonreactive presence usually means is disagreeing (or, at least, stating your case) without getting all excited about it, without getting angry, fearful, hurt or disgusted by the fact that your partner sees things another way. People get bogged down in who’s right or wrong or in some drama about who’s offended whom. It deteriorates to blame and counter-blame. This useless sequence then escalates and, before you know it we’re off to the races for a no-holds-barred, throw-in-the-kitchen-sink knock-down-drag-out. Then, for many couples, there’s the long, drawn-out recovery period—the cold freeze. What a waste of time and love!
There’s no good reason why you have to give up your own truth to allow room for another’s in a conversation. You don’t have to take on your partner’s truth or insist they take on yours. Two different truths can exist side-by-side if the two individuals can accept and be comfortable with the fact that they are two separate individuals. All it takes is a little courtesy and a lot of self-control.
Some fortunate people can even see the simultaneous truth of two opposing points of view. It just depends how you look at it, like one of those figure and ground optical illusions. Look once and see two faces. Look again and it’s a vase. With practice you can go back and forth or even see both at once.
This is a skill that works for you in two ways. Many couples disagree more than they don’t and this nonreactivity skill allows them to stay together in relative peace without selling out, running away or driving each other off. It’s having to be “right” and making the other “wrong” that stands in the way of a happier, more harmonious relationship. Furthermore, sitting calmly in the presence of the opposition helps you to confront yourself, test the validity of your views and grow to meet your own potential.