What follows is for any important relationship you are in, or someone you know is in: romantic love, parent-child, other family members, or platonic friendship.
Let’s suppose you and someone with whom you are in a relationship argue often. Or, you don’t argue very often, but when you do, it can get nasty and contentious. What typically transpires, of course, is that you both go back and forth on the subject of the argument, e.g., money, domestic upkeep, keeping commitments, loyalty, et cetera. Typical too, though, is the basic underlying message you are each giving each other, regardless of the subject being argued: it’s “I’m right, you’re wrong—and it really pisses me off that you don’t see it my way!”
Well, ever heard of Newton’s Third Law—you know, the old ‘every action produces an equal and opposite reaction?’ When applying Newton’s Third Law to what l’ll call Human-Relationship Physics, what you can guarantee is happening is that each time one of you is emphatically taking the uncompromising “I’m right, you’re wrong!” position, that’s pretty much reflexively triggering an equal and opposite “No, I’m right, YOU’RE wrong!” position right back! And round and round can this vicious Newtonian circle go, until one or both or one of you either says something truly mean and things get ugly, or one of you leaves the situation, until the next battle begins, an hour, a day, or a week later.
The question I now ask you is this: by holding on tightly to your “I’m right!” position, what did you win? Did you get the other person to agree with you? Chances are maybe you forced their hand to agree on a rare occasion, but I doubt anything more constructive than that. Worse, did you and that person do anything at all truly healthy for the relationship? Did you grow together and nurture healthy habits? Obviously not—which is of course very easy for both parties to completely lose sight of during those Newtonian episodes (hey, when you come from an immediate family of quite a few arguers and arguments like I did, you know this stuff all too well, I guarantee you).
So, what can you do to try and nip these episodes in the bud? Easier said than done for sure! But, it truly begins with both of you committing to prioritizing RESOLVING over winning. Practically speaking, resolving can involve the following diffusing steps:
1) Listening for what may be some legitimacy in the other person’s position.
2) Acknowledging the person’s feeling of the moment, e.g., “Hey, I assure you I see how angry/aggravated you are right now!”
3) Challenging both of you TOGETHER about how much you’re hurting each other by staying on the attack, e.g., “but hey, can we agree to try and resolve this without hurting each other so much, like we keep doing?”
4) Deciding together at that moment to either take a self-calming and de-escalating time out, or proceed to have a constructive discussion where intense anger and resentment are kept under control.
Should the two of you—with practice— manage to accomplish that last step, I encourage you to think in positive Newtonian terms of your accomplishment. You together switched the “I’m right, you’re wrong!” action/reaction PROBLEM into the “Hey, let’s really try to resolve this!” action/reaction RESOLUTION!
Oh, and one more thing: try reminding each other that you need to stop acting like adversaries if not enemies, because you supposedly love each other!Published in