"I'm sorry, but...": The ultimate guide for getting your head out of your a**
It happens, you’re going to disagree, and sometimes it will get heated. After all, you are two human beings trying to relate to one another, constantly challenging the other to grow and stretch.
Most of us do not feel fond of these moments of discomfort and challenge. Honestly, I dread being in an argument with my partner but through painful learning I have discovered how to not show my ass when we end up arguing.
Here's hoping they are of some use to you.
Here are my six tips to help resolve conflicts with your partner and to keep your head out of your ass.
1. Put your ego away and stop taking things personally
If you are able to detach yourself from the natural human reaction to internalize critical statements, it can help you lower your defenses and have a productive conversation with your partner.
Detaching does not mean shutting down or compartmentalizing, it is the acknowledgement and integration of your emotions.
When feelings of anger, sadness, hurt, self-pity, joy, or defensiveness arise, acknowledge them as just that.
To feel something, is to subjectively experience an objective action. The Oxford Dictionary states that “feel” as a verb has the following two listed meanings:
“to consider oneself to be in a particular state or exhibiting particular qualities” or “have a belief or impression, especially without an identifiable reason”
Of course you may feel angry or upset with your partner, but YOU are the originator of your feelings of anger or upsetness, not the people you interact with.
Detaching from the experiencer (ego) and becoming the observer, will allow you to view your feelings objectively and discern yourself from the ego.
Ram Dass likens detachment from feelings and the experience of emotion as a person standing on a bridge, watching them float down a river.
“Huh, would you look at that, there they go” - R. Dass
How to practice this:
When an argument begins, take a moment to notice the feelings that are arising; anger, disappointment, frustration, self-pity, annoyance etc.
Question where they are truly coming from and how they are serving you.
Are your feelings arising because you feel your partner is acting against you?
Is your partner not integrating your suggestions?
Is one of your partner’s habits annoying to you and your partner just won’t stop doing it?
Now question your answers to those prompts, explore why you feel the need to change your partner, why a habit is annoying to you, or why you feel that your partner is against you?
Are these “needs” helping you or your partner in any form, or are they actually limiting your experience, because your expectations are not being met? Are you trying to control life (which is futile) through controlling your partner?
If you can come to understand that most problems we have with one another arise from the egoic need to shape the world to benefit our own perception of “how it should be”, you can begin to liberate yourself and your partner from illusory problems.
2. Know when to press pause
If you and your partner find yourself in this moment, with tempers flaring and comments devolving, perhaps it’s time to hit the pause button.
Creating space for one another will allow you to cool off.
I have heard “you cannot solve a problem, at the same energy level that it was created”, so if you started out yelling, cursing, or attacking one another, that output level will not be where a solution is found.
When my partner and I are facing a difficult conversation or topic, we often adjourn to different rooms and take time to meditate, think, journal, or read.
Sometimes we are in a place where physical distancing is not available, and in this case my partner and I opt to sit in silence. This gives us the ability to cool down and think logically rather than emotionally, and often turns into self reflection on where our egos are sowing defensive thoughts.
While this all sounds idyllic (and it is) it is still very difficult for my partner and I to always be 100% on this, so don’t be too hard on yourself. This is a practice, meaning it takes multiple and consistent attempts to get to mastery.
The other major change that this practice brings is a change of tone. Tone of voice is one of the most powerful communication tools we have as humans.
Our ability to shift the meaning of a singular statement via inflection and intonation is an evolutionary masterpiece that can turn “I’m sorry” into scathing sarcasm. So when you are ready to return to the conversation make sure to take note of how you are inflecting, intonating, and enunciating.
How to practice this:
If an argument is getting too heated, suggest to your partner that you take some time to think, separately.
Find a calm and quiet space, or put on some relaxing music and use the time to go within.
Write down the feelings that you are noticing as well as the statements that are coming up in your mind.
If you are still having the hypothetical argument in your own head, question who you are arguing with at this point and if your expectations are serving to create harmonious or egoic and defensive conversation.
Think of a happy memory that brings up love, togetherness, or happiness and speak from that place. This will allow you to speak with kindness and compassion once you return to the subject with your partner.
3. Practice active listening, hear your partner
Oftentimes when we are in the heat of the moment, unconsciously engaged in arguing, our communication channels become one way.
We are undoubtedly listening to our partner, but we are no longer hearing them.
The audio-in channel no longer connects to the logical mind, the experiencer (ego) and the emotional mind have taken the reins. This turns the conversation between partners into two competing monologues, happening at the exact same time.
In this situation, it is easy to devolve further and further into “but” statements, blame casting, and reactive comments.
A major byproduct of this type of interaction is that neither partner feels heard or able to find closure through communicating their experience.
If you are going to resolve whatever issue has arisen between you, you must both listen with the intent of understanding rather than responding.
Active listening is the practice of remaining present during conversation without judgment or suggestion. Let your partner talk, let them wind through their stream of consciousness, and listen intently.
How to practice this:
When your partner begins speaking to you, release the need to respond, listen instead. Acknowledge that only one of you can speak at a time, because you can’t speak and listen simultaneously.
Try using physical cues to help prepare yourself mentally: Close your eyes, unclench your jaw, relax your tongue and shoulders, and begin taking deep belly breaths.
During pauses or breaks in your partners train of thought, allow for silent reflection then paraphrase their words so they can hear and digest their own thoughts. This will allow your partner to revisit their thoughts and provide a chance to re-digest their own words, creating a better understanding of their intention for you both.
Practice body posturing that shows you are intent on listening and being present; lean in, turn to face them, unfold your arms, don’t bounce your legs, and nod to indicate that you are listening to them.
4. Turn off the scoreboard
When my partner and I are in an argument, my ego is always offering up ammunition for my tongue in the form of historical data points.
The labels of “always” and “never” are usually the foundation for these comments and this can be harmful in many different ways.
When you tell your partner that they are “always” or “never” doing X, you are creating a static identity for them in your mind. You won’t see them for who they really are and worse, they may start believing these false generalizations.
These statements are automatic ego triggers, that rarely mirror reality, and should be avoided.
There also seems to be a filing cabinet that we all keep, chock full of past transgressions or perceived slights that we love to pull out when our ego is feeling threatened.
Archiving this information does nothing but make us more susceptible to falling into the pattern of weaponizing the past.
What you or your partner did in 2019 does not represent the person or the situation that you are in today. There is a difference in noticing harmful pattern behaviors and keeping score. In keeping score we are creating a way to shift blame, to make another person responsible for our actions.
This may be one of the most difficult practices, but if you can find a place of compassion and detachment to view your reactions to your partner, you can replace contempt with forgiveness.
How to practice this:
During an argument, when you feel the ego queuing up past transgressions or perceived slights, notice your thoughts and question their true purpose.
Are you bringing up past issues to place yourself in a right vs. wrong or you vs. me relationship with your partner?
Are you doing it out of spite or to signal your perceived righteousness?
Will these comments help your conflict come to a resolution or will they only serve to devolve the argument further?
Are the comments even relevant to the topic at hand?
Once again, question your answers to these prompts, become the observer of your thoughts and emotions as they surface, and detach from the need to correct, critique or label your partner as a “person who does X, or has X problem. Contemplate how you can see them as who they are in this moment.
5. Admit fault without “but” statements
Let’s be honest, arguments are usually based on a viewpoint of “I’m right, you’re wrong”.
It is also well known that we all have our own subjective version of the “truth” and of what is considered to be “right” or “wrong”.
Good luck trying to convince your partner or anyone else that your view is more correct than theirs!
During conflict we often disguise our attempts to signal morality behind apologies that contain “but” statements. “I’m sorry that I did X, but…”
Doing so doesn’t signal ownership of any kind, it just creates a vehicle to blame cast indicating the other person as the cause of your actions.
This attempt to balance the sheet is our ego keeping score, trying to make it even or in our favor. Our ego protects self value and worth, aiming to keep us confident, and hardly allows for self-reflection or admittance of mistakes.
You must release the notion that saying “I’m sorry” or admitting faults is acquiescing to being “wrong” or “losing”. This dualistic view only serves to create separation and agitation between your partner and yourself.
How to practice this:
When your ego feels compelled to create a label of who is right and wrong, ask yourself the following questions:
Is my view more correct than my partners and who/what decided what is wrong or right?
If my feeling of “losing” comes up, what is it that I am actually losing by admitting fault?
Why do I feel the need to be correct and is my assertion limiting my ability to hear and understand my partner?
When we can detach from the need to be wrong or right, as the observer, we can objectively own our actions. Owning your actions means to accept that you are in control of your own actions and you are choosing to act.
This creates internal accountability and removes culpability from external stimuli, empowering you to be in control.
6. Build a bridge
After an argument, it can be difficult to feel connected to your partner even though you love and care for them deeply.
Many people find they become distant or cold towards their partner immediately following an argument, this is a normal occurrence as your ego actively creates separation.
Our primal brains and the experiencer (ego) register conflict at any threshold as a physical threat, and therefore it reactively creates distance; both physically and emotionally.
Our primal brains are also hardwired for nurture and touch. Neurologically, touch is related to the release of dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin in our brains, all of which are attached to different pleasure centers and are activated to strengthen bonds. So reach out and hold your partners hand, even if you don't feel like it.
The difficulty of coming together is usually created by the perception that being the first to reach out is an admittance of guilt or fault, of being “right” or “wrong”.
Almost as if to say that whoever breaks first, loses. Once again, our dualistic view of morality becomes a limiter.
Acting with love and compassion towards yourself and your partner is the highest form of conscious action.
How to practice this:
During or after an argument, pay attention to your physical posturing towards your partner.
Unfold your arms, turn your body to face them, maintain eye contact and begin to close your physical distance to them.
Try actually reaching out, extending your hand to your partner to build a bridge between you.
If your partner is not ready to engage physically, do not take it personally or internalize the action creating feelings of self-pity or rejection. Allow them to take their time, maintain your presence and show your intention and commitment to them.
No one is perfect and no one can hold themselves to this high standard 24/7, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't try. The next time that you find yourself in an argument I hope you're able to think back on some of these practices and not act like a complete ass.
I'd love to hear what you think, drop a comment or email me at Info@lookinginsideout.com