My son is six and recently started playing soccer. It’s quite adorable, and at times comical, to watch the team try to figure out how to play this new-to-them game, with rules and regulations. Oftentimes, the coach, as well as the parents from the sideline, will need to remind the players with the phrase, “Same team!!” This happens when two or more kids, on the same team are going for the ball or even trying to take it from one another, rather than behaving and playing as a team (i.e. spreading out and getting open so one player can pass to the other, etc..). We think, “oh that’s funny, they don’t understand, they have to work together not against each other”. Silly kids, right? Well, guess what folks, we STILL do this as adults. Specifically within the context of relationships.
Since officially becoming a “soccer mom” (no mini van, YET), and witnessing this “same team!” occurrence, I can’t help but think of it when working with couples in therapy. It comes up all the time. It’s actually a mantra and argument stopper/de-escalator that I’ve started to encourage my clients to use, both internally and as a verbal reminder in disagreements.
Don’t get me wrong, it can be so easy to get into the pattern of being defensive with our partner and automatically assuming we need to protect ourselves. But beware, this primes us to be in argumentative mode constantly, which only further perpetuates the feelings of opposition. When we feel as though we need to argue until our partner comes to our way of thinking (i.e. the “winner”) we are setting ourselves up. I often ask, “do you want to win or do you want to be in a relationship”? So what are some things to look out for when you and your partner aren’t exactly in agreement? Below I’ve listed out some indicators that you may be adding to the adversarial dynamic of your relationship. If you’re being honest with yourself, are you working with or against your partner?
- Listening to understand or respond? Trick question! If your goal is to simply wait out your partner while they talk, so you can speak your piece, you’re not actively listening. The goal here is to try and understand your partner, this fosters empathy and compassion, which results in softening which is a much more effective stance for problem solving and connection. (you know, connection, the whole reason you are in a relationship, right??)
- Does your partner often say, “that’s not what I meant” once you explain your interpretation of what they’ve said (or perhaps reacted to what they’ve said)? How are you interpreting the information your partner is giving you? We all have a lens we view the world, including our relationships, through. Take a really honest look at this, because it may be contributing to the strained dynamic and skewing information. Our lens will color how we interpret and what we hear coming from our partner, and unfortunately does not always take intention into account.
- Are you rigid in the outcome of the argument and/or long term picture for the relationship? There’s another person to account for, who has their own ambitions and dreams for the relationship. There must be compromise.
- Do you feel completely shut down to whatever it is that your partner is saying? This is an advanced protective mechanism. At some point your brain, may decide that this person (your partner) is not to be trusted. Therefore, no matter what is said, if it comes from your partner, it is null and void, not to be acknowledged, dismissed immediately. Obviously, this is not such a good spot to be in if you’re wanting to work on and remain in the relationship. The good news is, this can be worked through. You can work to reopen yourself to your partner again.
Try this exercise on for size in order to change your perspective a bit. Request a picture of your partner from their childhood. This can work to soften your view of your partner and fosters or cultivates empathy more readily. As always, there is no shame in needing and/or wanting guidance in improving your relationship. Oftentimes the external help is needed to break free from the ill-suited, yet established, patterns your relationship is bound by.
Take Care Always,