In the field of marriage and couples counseling, we often talk about how there are three encounters that couples need to master:
Harmony, for most couples, is easy. Traveling together, dinners out without the kids, enjoying your favorite outdoor activity on a beautiful day. You fall in love usually because you do harmony so well. It helps us for attachment and connection that is much needed for the later stages of our life together.
Disharmony comes easy for most couples however doing it well is key. If you spend everyday with ANY person, you will hits moments of disharmony. This is not only normal but it is healthy. It is vital that each person in the couple be their own complete, unique, individual self. And if you are being your own individual self chances are it will rub up against your mate.
This means that you are being YOU and that is really important. How you do this differentiation (the process of being different from your partner) matters. You of course know that criticism, contempt, and judgment will contaminate a relationship — but somehow most people do it anyway.
Don’t, though. Really, don’t.
I know it is hard. I’ve been married 17 years so I know. But differentiating by making the other person wrong creates scar tissue and lands you in a complex, dark and stormy place of conflict that can feel impossible to get out of...and even more impossible to heal when it goes on for months, years, or decades.
Instead, learn how to do disharmony well. Master disharmony! Define yourself without making the other one wrong — stay curious about how your partner shows up and do not take their difference personally. This is the kiss of death — taking their difference personally.
As soon as you take it personally you will likely do one of three things:
• Shut down
And yes, I know that it can feel impossible in the moment to STAY CURIOUS when what you want to do is defend how your perspective/experience/idea/etc. is right/better/more accurate/etc.
This is the work, friend. This is it, right in this moment. Practice doing disharmony well.
And then there is repair. I ask every couple who comes through my door how they do repair with their partner. Most have some tools: apologizing, writing cards or giving flowers, some say that they can circle back and be accountable about their part of the violation.
Repair is much more than, “I’m sorry”. [Truth be told: I’m not a fan of ‘I’m sorry’ at all.]
Repair is an opportunity to:
1. name your own role in the disharmony.
2. be accountable for your bits of the disharmony (WITHOUT BLAMING).
3. do a bit of inner work and connect up themes from this conflict to previous conflicts to recognize your own patterns that emerge in disharmony.
4. get curious about your partner's experience and feelings in the conflict.
5. ask questions of your partner to get to know them more deeply:
◦ what did this conflict remind you of?
◦ how are these feelings similar to other relationships/experiences in your life prior to our relationship?
◦ what else would you want me to know that I haven’t asked?
6. create strategies to do it differently in the future: time outs, boundaries on conversations, practicing more effective communication tools, etc.
THIS is repair. This is learning from the disharmony, seeing and naming your role in it, recognizing your partner’s experience of it, and creating a plan for success in the future.
Does this sound tedious?
It may, but likely some of it is what you have utilized in other parts of your life. Most of us have had conflict in work and we take stock of what works, what doesn’t and rather than blaming the other person/people/product/corporation, we generally look at what we are doing that isn’t working and we change our strategy in order to achieve a better result.
This is an expanded version of what you already do in other parts of your life.
How you do disharmony and repair is what defines you as a lover, a friend, a spouse, a partner, and a parent. These are the days to throw your weight into, these are the days to attend to, to prepare and plan for…because the easy days are easy for a reason.
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If you are ready to create more effective strategies for disharmony and repair in your life, call us now and one of our licensed therapists will help you get started.
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We cannot wait to meet you!