This week’s question comes from Makena:
“Dear Orna and Matthew,
I’ve been dating a great guy for the last year. Recently we moved in together and it has created a lot of friction between us. I love him and he loves me, but we fight all the time. I don’t want to break up.
What should I do?”
Fighting with someone you love can be one of the most heartbreaking situations. Our love goes out to the two of you.
We want you to know that fighting is not only common in intimate relationships, but when done properly can lead to a deeper connection between the two of you. In order for that to happen, you both have to have the same goal in mind.
Conflict is natural in an intimate relationship, and when you understand the common stages that all relationships go through you will have a clearer vision on where you and your boyfriend are, and where you could be heading.
When you first come together, there is attraction, the discovery of common interests, the excitement of sex, and all the other good stuff that two people can share together. This is the romance stage of relationship, and it is a chemical high.
Both of your brains are being flooded with feel good chemicals like dopamine and norepinephrine that stimulate the pleasure centers of your brain and create a feeling of excitement.
In this stage the two of you are mainlining love like an addict mainlines heroin.
This stage is so important because it bonds the two of you, and ultimately puts fuel in the tank of the relationship so you can continue further down the path toward lasting-love.
Unfortunately, these chemicals wear off over time, and when they do, there is a natural hangover. This is the beginning of the power struggle stage of relationship.
At the beginning there is the excitement of discovering someone new. “Wow, this person is different from me. This is exciting!” When the chemicals wear off and the power struggle kicks in, you discover yourself thinking, “Wow, this person is different from me. If only he/she would do things my way we would get along so much better!”
Another aspect of the power struggle that is important to understand is that each of you is being triggered into your core wounds. Even though it may appear that this person is the problem, the real problem is that your subconscious mind is seeing his behavior through the core wound of your childhood experiences.
If the two of you argue about the dishes and who does them and how they are done, the argument isn’t really about the dishes.
Your side of the argument may be that you were raised by a controlling mother, and his criticism of how you load the dishwasher triggers a feeling in you that he is trying to control you.
His side of the argument may be that he didn’t feel respected as a little boy, and your criticism of how he does the dishes triggers a feeling of disrespect inside of him.
Neither of your issues is really about the dishes. The argument over the dishes is simply a catalyst for your childhood wounds (Your Love Imprint®) to be triggered.
There is a way out of the power struggle and into the third stage of relationship – The Stability Stage.
Let’s look at 5 ways to overcome the power struggle in your relationship:
1. Take responsibility for what belongs to you, and don’t blame your partner for your wounds.
From our example above: He didn’t create your fear of being controlled, and you didn’t create his fear of being disrespected.
When you stop blaming your partner for a wound that existed long before he came along, you are able to step into responsibility. From the seat of responsibility you can find your way through to deeply connect with one another.
What bothers us about our partner is something that is already inside of us. We call this “The Funhouse Mirror Effect.” You don’t recognize that your partner is really a reflection of yourself. The image is distorted just like inside a funhouse at the fair.
Own your wounds and stop blaming your partner for being triggered.
2. Have compassion for your partner and his childhood wounds.
If you were able to go back in time and see your partner as a little boy, you would find an infinite amount of compassion for everything he went through.
When your partner is triggered, imagine him as that little boy who is hurt or scared. He is using the best strategy he has for coping with the current situation. When you see him this way, it becomes easy to see his behavior for what it is – an old pattern – and from this perspective you do not take his behavior personally.
Triggering events put us into a fight/flight response. Literally our big, beautiful, conscious mind goes offline, and the reptilian, animal brain takes over. We are no longer resourceful, intelligent human beings capable of solving problems. Instead we are animals trying to protect ourselves and need to feel safe.
The same is true for you. Seeing yourself as the little girl who is doing the best she can with limited resources opens you up to compassion for yourself which then will allow you to reconnect with your partner.
3. Use “I” language, not “You” language when communicating your feelings.
One of the easiest ways to trigger a defensive response from someone is to say “You make me so angry!” (Or replace anger with whatever emotion you usually are triggered into.)
The truth is you are the one who is in control of your emotional life. No one can make you feel anything. It’s not like he’s holding a gun to your head and saying, “Feel angry or I’ll shoot!”
Your emotional responses are yours. Own them, especially when you are sharing them with your partner.
Sharing with your partner in this way, “I feel angry when I imagine that someone is trying to control me,” allows you to take responsibility for your own emotions and for the history of your wounds. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter who the other person is, this is your habitual response when you feel that someone is attempting to control you.
Communicating in this way allows your boyfriend to hear you rather than hearing your feelings as an attack on him.
4. Clean up your emotional messes before they become too big of a problem to talk about easily.
One of the common sayings in our culture that we really dislike is, “Pick your battles.”
First off, you are not in a war with your partner so any disagreement is not a battle to be fought.
Also, when you hold onto something because you think it’s not a big deal and you don’t want to seem like a difficult person, your emotions can build up inside until you cannot contain them anymore.
Holding onto to little things and letting them build up over time sets things up for you to finally erupt like a volcano. It doesn’t feel good to you, and both you and your partner are covered in lava and feeling burned.
We have a practice of keeping the sink clean in our relationship. We don’t let the dirty dishes of our little hurts or frustrations to build up into something that is unmanageable.
Instead we clean up each fork as we go. Allowing us to remain connected to each other and to avoid blowups that are out of proportion to the current mishap.
5. Start fighting for the relationship and not against your partner.
The power struggle is like a tug of war between the two of you. When one of you is “right” that means the other one is “wrong.” No one wants to be wrong – we expend a lot of energy fighting off being wrong in every part of our lives.
Instead of the ego struggle of who is right or who is wrong, develop an “us against the world” mentality. This means that you fight for the relationship, not for your way, or his way.
Contrary to popular belief, compromise breeds resentment and ultimately kills passion in a relationship. No one wants to give up things they want and/or need in order to meet in the middle. It creates a lose-lose situation.
Instead look for the win-win in order to resolve conflict. This does require more effort and creativity – it is worth it in the long run.
Practicing these 5 tools, will allow your love for each other to grow more deeply over time. You’ll also create an opportunity to heal those childhood wounds by staying with one another over decades together.
This is how conflict can ultimately be a doorway to a deeper connection.
We would love to hear how these tools work for the two of you – please let us know by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are here to be your guides to long-lasting love.
Love and Abundance,