In an earlier article, I suggested that whenever you find yourself in a conflictual situation, the first person you should focus on is yourself. The purpose being to help you get to the heart of the problem. Too often, however, people in troubled relationships direct their energies and attention toward defending themselves and denigrating their partners. They argue about facts such as who said what, which day of the week it was, and whose account of the situation is most accurate. In every case, they forget what they don’t want to face and only remember what supports their beliefs.
All of their statements are of the same ilk, in that they’re primarily designed to give credence to old opinions, positions and orientations. The problem is that clinging to old convictions precludes your ability to consider thoughts held by others, and mitigates objectivity. Even when you determine you’re RIGHT, you only win the battle. More often than not, you wind up losing the war. As a result, despite the fact that the original purpose of your argument or discussion may have been to bring about harmony and create feelings of love and compassion, you rarely achieve that goal. Why? Because dealing with facts doesn’t help you to create positive relationships. The way to do that is to deal with your emotions. Consequently, it becomes essential that you focus on discovering your own feelings and then find the courage to share them with everyone with whom you want to establish a healthy, loving relationship. That very act will not only enable your partner to know you better, but will provide a greater opportunity for each of you to relate intimately, with vulnerability and compassion.
The question is how do you go about altering the knee-jerk behaviors most frequently demonstrated by individuals in conflictual relationships, i.e., blaming your partner for whatever is wrong, while proving to the world that you were right to begin with? I wish there was a magic elixir or a mantra I could give you that would enable you to immediately resolve this problem, but I don’t have one. I do, however, have a story I’d like to share which I hope will, to some degree, enable you to alter those reactions in your future conflicts.
Some time ago, I was forced, by virtue of parental and family responsibilities, to attend a grandchild’s soccer game. I’m sure many of you have had a similar opportunity. I don’t know what’s worse, the parents acting like children, shouting instructions from the sidelines, and criticizing their behavior, while thinking they’re helping their child to be a better athlete; or their children, who they so desperately want to be proud of, standing in the field, kicking dirt, walking when they should be running, and sometimes going in the wrong direction. But that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that, during one of the breaks, one youngster ran up to the coach with tears streaming down his face, saying, “I don’t want to play anymore. I kicked the ball three times into the net and the goalie knocked it out. I want to quit soccer.” The coach put his arm around thew youngster’s shoulders and said, “You don’t know it, but you’re a very good soccer player. First of all, you had the opportunity to kick the ball three times. I grant you that it went right to the goalie, but think of it this way: you’re a good kicker. The problem is your focus. I’ve watched you running down the field, looking at the goalie, focusing in on him. And when you do, you wind up kicking the ball at what you’re focusing on. What I want you to do next time is don’t look at the goalie, look at the empty spaces on either side of him. Keep looking at those empty spaces, then kick into them.” The child nodded his head as though he totally understood, seemed relieved that the coach didn’t blame him, and eagerly trotted back onto the field.
The coach’s words really struck me. Emotionally, they delivered a powerful message. One that I believe everyone has to learn and practice throughout their lives, particularly if you want to reach the goals you desire. All you have to do is focus on them. That’s pretty simple. But, most of all, it’s accurate. Think about it this way. Too many times, people focus on the negatives. When they do, they have no way to focus on the positives. Think about it this way: if you consistently dwell on your partner’s faults, and then remind him/her of them, all you achieve is to diminish your partner’s sense of worth, create an adversarial relationship and feel hostility toward them. For example: recall a time when you and your spouse had a disagreement. Then ask yourself, “What did I focus on?” If you’re truly insightful, your answer might be, “Winning the argument, proving I was right by giving credibility to my position, while undermining theirs.” Then ask a second question, “What was the end result?” I’m sure it wasn’t compromise, compassion, or caring emotions. Instead, it was continued competition, conflict and hurtful feelings.
As the coach said, if you want positive feelings and results, you must focus on them. Think of the positive attributes you admired when you first met him/her. Then, instead of saying, “What happened to the person I married? What caused you to be the selfish, self-centered, cold individual you’ve become?”, say, “Your words are hurtful and they pain me, because I remember the positive, loving emotions and feelings we shared when we first met. So, you’re not going to get rid of me. I’m going to focus on helping you to be that person again, because I love him/her and know he/she is still inside you.”