Am I being my best self, or am i just reacting to my partner? That's a big question, especially when applied when we are having relationship problems at home.
Self-esteem, self-knowledge and self-confidence play a large part in the answer. Reacting often comes with a very high price tag!
Relationship problems are intricate, complex and usually historically well-endowed. When something happens for the first time, it seldom gets the gusto it engenders after the fifth time. And, then we pull out those fearsome--and inaccurate words--"You always..." and "You never...!"
When I'm working with folks in my office to bring a relationship back together, or to end it peacefully through mediation services, I hear a lot of history. People need to tell their stories when they come for counseling. They seldom need to tell their story when they come for mediation. But, be that as it may, I hear a lot of stories from the past in either case. They need to talk. They need to be heard. And, often, the relationship problems they do have stem from everyone talking and no one listening!
And, then, most of that talking is about justification for their actions:
"I only did that because you did this."
"Your mother did that which was outrageous, so...."
"I didn't think you would notice me if I didn't...."
"I was sick and tired of your doing ______!"
All these statements are justifying their actions based on what someone else did. This is not what grown-ups do!
Grown-ups take the time to reflect on their values, vision, beliefs and purpose to know who they are. Once they know who they are, they then can think about how they demonstrate who they are by what they say and do. Alignment is either present, or it is not. Grown-ups, though, take it a step further: they monitor their own behavior by asking themselves two questions, one as the day begins, another as the day ends:
• What will I bring to this day that demonstrates who I am in the highest and best way possible in every relationship?
• What did I do today that demonstrated who I am in the highest and best way possible in every relationship?
That's the inner work, your own work.
The next natural step, then, is to look at your relationship problems with new eyes. Instead of starting with your partner's behavior, reflect on your own.
Were you your best self in the problematic situation that's now on the table and coming between you? It's likely you were not, because you were reacting. That's old learned behavior, and once you have done your own work, you will have the courage to take your new self to the street! That means, that, no matter what anyone does or says, you still get to be you. No longer do you turn green and expand out of your clothes when things don't go your way...even metaphorically!
Now, you can re-visit any communication or conflict management skills you have and see them in a new light.
- They are not there for proving that you're right and blowing the underpinnings out from under your partner.
- They are not there to give you control, charge or superiority over your partner.
- They are there to create learning through conversation, to learn about each other and the perceptions, perspectives, assumptions and contradictions that go with being human.
And, as you do this, there is a very good chance your relationship will become more than you ever thought possible.
Someone has to go first. Let it be you. Your relationship problems may well begin to improve right away.