Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that you decide one day that you will no longer have a certain fight with your partner. You clearly love her, and you do not intend to argue. Even though it is hard to let her have her way, you decide that, for the relationship’s sake, you are going to make compromises and not argue. Why is it then, that sometime after walking though the door, before you even realize it, you are back in the same argument? Changing your own behavior is hard enough, but in the context of a relationship, change is even harder. This is because you are not only trying to change yourself, you are trying to change another individual with their own obstacles, and you are trying to change a dynamic, a relationship, with still more obstacles.

Beyond the reasons that make it hard for you to change your reactions as an individual, there are a number of ‘traps’ in trying to change a dynamic between you and your partner. Here are the traps that I have observed most often:

1) Lack of Mindfulness: You fully intended to change your behavior, but then you react on the spot when your partner does the thing that bothers you. You are not able to stay completely mindful of your goal of compromising more, and you react in the way that comes naturally without thinking first.

2) Righteous Indignation: You begin by not doing the behavior you normally do, but then your partner doesn’t notice. She either accuses you of doing it anyway, or at the very least does not appreciate the effort you are putting in to avoid acting on your impulse. Now you feel twice violated. Not only do you have to struggle to resist acting on your impulse, but to add insult to injury, your partner is giving you the same hard time that she would if you had done it. Why should you bother fighting the impulse if your partner is not going to notice or appreciate it, and is going to give you the same hard time anyway? So you give in and go back to the old pattern.

3) Resentment: Again, you begin by not doing the behavior you normally do, but then your partner does his part anyway, meaning he does the behavior or says the thing that you do not like. The thought occurs to you: Why should you bother fighting the impulse if he is not going to, and is going to ‘get away’ with doing something you find unfair, when you are going to all that effort? So you give in and go back to the old pattern out of spite.

4) Shield up: A major obstacle in altering this pattern is tolerating vulnerability. Part of what perpetuates the argument is that both you and your partner do not trust each other in that moment. You are afraid that if you lower your guard, he will not respond with compassion and support, but will seize an opportunity to strike while your defenses are down. And he is afraid of the same thing. Each of you is waiting for the other to ‘go first.’ In order to let go of an argument, you have to remember the image of your partner as an ally who loves you, not an adversary out to get you; even if that is not consistent with his actions at the moment. Someone has to step towards trust first, and prioritize rapprochement over resentment. This means tolerating the time it takes your partner to catch up and lower his defenses too.

5) Letting go: This trap is simply the part of you that believes in your point. It is really difficult to let go of an argument when you think your point is valid and you want your partner to validate that point or see things as you do. Part of the challenge in this trap is moderation. You don’t want to be stubborn and hold onto every argument. Nor do you want to be a pushover and relinquish every time. Ideally, each of you will sometimes choose to let go a little, even if you do not feel satisfied or validated. Sometimes this will mean letting your partner have her way. Sometimes it will mean coming back to the discussion when you are both calmer and more open to compromise.

The best way to counter these traps is to remind yourself of why you should. It can be helpful to have a verbal mantra or a visual image that reminds you of your love for your partner, what you love about her, and what drew you to make a commitment to her.


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“What you are as a single person, you will be as a married person, only to a greater degree. Any negative character trait will be intensified in a marriage relationship, because you will feel free to let your guard down — that person has committed himself to you and you no longer have to worry about scaring him off.”             –Josh McDowell


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