Within a relationship there is the reassurance of feeling that there is someone with whom we can share life’s difficulties and satisfactions. It is consoling to think that there is a person who understands and on whom we can lean. There is a comfort in knowing a partner has the same values, shares the same outlook and interests, and has a familiar perspective on the world. The similarities are affirming and help us relax and feel trust. Even differences can be perceived as offering an opportunity to widen our horizons.
However, there are some differences which create a frisson of panic and appear to us to attack the secure base of the relationship. A certain difference of opinion seems to be the polar opposite of our own and we feel vulnerable and insecure – perhaps not taken into account. We make interpretations that, if s/he thinks that, or can do that, perhaps they are not the safe pair of hands that was imagined. Maybe s/he should not be trusted. Maybe s/he does not love as much as was hoped.
When this anxiety grips there is an unconscious rationalisation that a fault-line in the relationship has been revealed. Linked to the strength (or the precariousness) of the attachments in our childhoods, a fear of abandonment can be evoked. It leads us to be defensive and either withdraw or protest. We defend against the loss of the loved relationship – while making the loss dangerously possible. An angry exchange can quickly escalate into a bitter argument. Paradoxically, the fight is an attempt to reconnect and regain concordance. We are trying to deny, disprove, attack an opposing view and re-establish the cocoon of unity.
As an alternative, wonder why your own reaction is so strong. Are you overlaying a past experience onto the present? Don’t jump in too quickly. Avoid starting a sentence with ‘Yes, but…’ and LISTEN instead of contradicting. Try to be curious instead of dismissive. Without feeling you have to concede your own position, ask for more information. What is the underlying story? Wonder about the FEELINGS as much as the facts. Ask for time to give your own explanation. This should not be about attacking your partner but should be focussed on yourself. Use ‘I’ not ‘you’. Avoid finger-pointing and global statements that stress ‘always’ and ‘never’.
Find the common ground, even if it is just agreeing that there is an unresolved issue, and join forces as a couple to solve the problem. Brainstorm and ask for possible solutions and alternative suggestions. There may be room for small concessions on both sides. It is not about scorekeeping or tit-for-tat. See yourselves as collaborators once more.