Those that truly love us, love us as we are, warts and all. But as we know, even when we truly want to give that kind of love, most of us find that we are highly conditional about our affection. We will be happy if….
Until we get our desired outcome, we are generally happier to blame others for our lack of happiness than to adjust ourselves, or the ‘conditions’ we insist on. This is why arguments are repetitive, and why smaller and smaller arguments can last longer and longer.
As we get lost in our own thinking, we stop trying to maintain happiness. Instead we start exchanging ‘explanations,’ ‘justifications,’ and ‘clarifications.’ We act as though we’re trying to solve a math problem, as though there is some absolute answer.
This process can devolve into a battle for control of the house, or marriage, when in reality the whole thing can only be achieved as a cooperative effort. It’s not about who’s right or wrong in the house. It’s about how happy the household is.
In virtually every couple, there will be a natural imbalance in how each person responds. When conflict rises, generally one person will have been raised to be even slightly more aggressive than their partner. Over time, if we’re not conscious of it, this can easily devolve into one person becoming overbearing. They don’t realize it though, because in their childhood household, that level of aggression was deemed ‘normal.’
Meanwhile, the other person will often have grown up in a more peaceful household. So they are much more strongly impacted by negativity or attacks. Because they weren’t conditioned for those things during their childhoods, they will often respond to aggression by eggshell-walking, then hiding.
Keep in mind, when this happens it’s two good people who do love each other. Yet, without realizing it, the aggressor will presume consensus because they have demanded it, and they will not realize that their partner is just too inexperienced with aggression to equalize the relationship—and equal resistance would be the only clue the aggressor was raised to recognize or respond to.
When any of us behaves in aggressive ways, our intention is generally not to be mean or cruel. And most of us do take a turn at being that person in different situations. But, no matter who it is that’s doing it, by being oblivious to what realities matter, we can come to mistake the insides of our own heads, for other people’s lives.
This can mean that, even if our partner is heartbroken and belittled, so long as we the aggressor can justify what we said or did, the heartbreak is made irrelevant—to us! In those cases, the aggressor will feel that the diminishment the other person feels is the other person’s problem. And they are correct, to a degree.
If someone’s attacks lead us to continue to think insecure thoughts about ourselves, even when the aggressor is not around, then we are the ones perpetuating our suffering. But, if the feedback is routine, and it’s coming from inside our own home, then it’s like the central person in our life is working really hard at teaching us a mantra of negativity about ourselves. That is obviously not good for any relationship.
If we love someone unconditionally the phrase “If you love me you’ll….” will rarely if ever be spoken. That is the stating of a condition out loud. We are aggressively dictating. Then, if the person does not respond to our dictation, we can find ourselves insulting our partners, when in reality we should be trying to reconnect.
In the end, everyone will make major mistakes along the length of any relationship. And that inevitability means that we must become skilled at sincere apologies, and at rebuilding our connections. Even more importantly, we must also revisit the mind sets that allowed us to level an insult or attack in the first place.
We’re lucky if we marry someone who grew up in a household similar to our own, because then there is parity during arguments. At the same time, it is not the more aggressive person’s fault if they grew up in an aggressive household, nor the meeker person’s fault that they had no reason to develop a corresponding skill. But even if everyone arrived at the situation innocently, that does not mean that improvements in the relationship cannot be made.
If we look at our relationship and we recognize that we are the more aggressive person, then it is our responsibility to improve our awareness around how our approach can negatively impact those we’re trying to cooperate with. Because if we’re trying to cooperate, then even accidentally hurting others—particularly our partner—is really just another way of hurting ourselves.
We must recognize these realities if they apply to us. Then we must work to be extra-conscious about modifying our behaviour, so that its more reflective of how we actually feel about our partner, instead of how we feel about some situation that’s sparked our temporary disappointment.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.