One of the most important journeys any of us will take during our lifetime is that which leads to wisdom. One of the key components of wisdom is learning to recognize that all our choices have consequences, positive or negative. As we grow in wisdom, we are willing to learn from the results of our choices, making better and better decisions as we move along life’s path.
As we strive to become more wise in our relationships there is a particular choice that we will be called upon to make time after time in our marriages. Sometime in the next few days almost every last one of us is going to feel offended, irritated, or hurt by something our partner says or does.
It’s not always easy to think in rational terms when our blood pressure is rising over a perceived slight, but the truth is that conflict is the passageway to intimacy and health in our relationships. Without it there is no growth or refining. But to win the relationship rewards we must make the right decision in the face of adversity.
That moment when you feel hurt or offended you will be faced with a decision: Should you Retaliate; or should you seek Resolution and Reconciliation? Your response to this choice will have an enormous bearing on your future happiness and the long-term success of your relationships.
You might have hoodwinked yourself into believing that you really don’t have a choice; that offense must be answered with offense, aggression with aggression (even if it is passive aggressiveness). That is patently false—you do have the freedom to choose. You can choose the mindless destruction of retaliation and begin or continue the downward spiral of your most precious relationship.
Or you can enter that special passageway that leads to trust and relationship harmony by seeking reconciliation and win/win resolution. It only takes one partner to make that first step.
I don’t want to trivialize such a step or the effort required to take it. We humans seem to be hardwired to answer a hurt or offense in a like manner, and without a determined and conscious effort, retaliation, in some form will usually be our reaction.
But it is possible to choose differently and, by doing so, to literally bring a relationship out of the cold downward spiral to warmer, higher, and happier ground. I point to some necessities if we are to break this damaging cycle of hurt and retaliation,
1. Find a space of humility that brings with it a desire for reconciliation above “winning” or proving yourself “right.”
2. Take the initiative and be the peacemaker. Don’t let pride stand in the way of resolution.
3. Sympathize with your partner’s feelings and seek to understand their perspective. You need not agree with their point of view, but it is important to understand and acknowledge it.
4. Without trying to justify yourself, take accountability for your part in the problem. The truth is that there are very few relationship issues that are unilateral; the roots of problems tend to be tangled together. Taking your share of accountability will help defuse the resentment of others.
5. “Attack” the problem, not the person. Be honest, but choose your words and tone of voice carefully. Nothing has ever been solved through harsh judgment or name calling.
6. Emphasize Reconciliation, not resolution. Never place the desire for a solution above the paramount goal of building and strengthening the relationship. Solutions will always be found in a healthy and loving relationship, but rarely in one marred by turf wars and a need to be right.
You will discover that as the relationship is reconciled, many issues will lose their negative energy and will simply disappear or become more easily managed. So don’t hesitate to temporarily compromise on a particular problem, knowing that an even better solution will grow from the fertile soil of a loving relationship.