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I couldn’t help but see myself in her.
It was in the way her head tilted off to the side to hide her tears, and how she furiously tapped her fingertips on the table.
I’d seen the look she had in her eyes staring back at me in the mirror before. I have known that fury, the kind reserved for those we love the most.
I didn’t know the woman sitting across from me or what happened to upset her so deeply. But I’d been where she was on occasion, in the midst of an emotional meltdown. Even the brightest, bluest sky is dim and hazy when I’ve found myself there.
And from the worrisome expression on her partner’s face, he knew everything was dark within her in that moment.
The more intimate and connected we are, the more likely we will become triggered or emotionally reactive. Distressful situations with our partners can remind us of challenging encounters of our past. And when our insecurities, intolerances, and unmet needs are brought to light, our old coping patterns and early defenses arise.
In a sense, we are reliving our childhood wounding within our relationships each time we become triggered. We feel the same defeat and discomfort we felt during our most difficult experiences as children.
When our buttons are pushed, we focus on every little detail, analyzing, and losing ourselves to the idiosyncrasies of the argument.
We forget to pause, breathe, and see the whole picture.
Instead, we tend to believe it is the subject matter of our fights that has caused our unease, such as the mounting pile of dirty laundry that our partner neglected, their politics, or their passive insults. However, the root cause of our discord seldom has to do with the context of our disputes.
According to Esther Perel, psychotherapist, author, and relationship expert, and to couple’s therapist, Howard Markman, there is an underlying, central issue in our fights that, when uncovered, can profoundly effect how we argue and how quickly we move on. Markham suggests that the root of our conflicts can be simplified into one of three issues most of the time.
Here are the three underlying causes for most relationship fights:
1. Power. When we feel undermined, not taken seriously, or that we don’t have an equal say in our relationships, disputes related to a lack of power will take place. We might find ourselves arguing about parenting issues or financial decisions; however, these arguments are about one party feeling a loss of control.
2. Closeness. When we feel close to our partners, it means we’ve been understood and accepted by them. Our heart is warmed when our partner is concerned about our feelings, well-being, and our specific needs. Yet, when we perceive a lack of sincerity on their part, or the expectation of being well cared for is not met, arguments about feeling forgotten or overlooked will ensue.
3. Recognition. Being acknowledged and feeling appreciated for our energies, both inside and outside of our relationship, is essential. Yet, when our best efforts go unnoticed or we feel undervalued, we will become frustrated with our partners. Consequently, disputes centering around a lack of respect will take place.
Once we identify the hidden issue beneath our fight, we can speak to it and acknowledge the core wounding.
We can recognize how we may have unknowingly been insensitive and make considerations.
We can engage in meaningful and productive dialogue.
We can use language that expresses our feelings and discourages blame or finger pointing.
We can stop spiraling down into our old and exhausted relationship patterns.
We can be vulnerable and relate to each other’s hurt with an open heart.
We can gain insight into what we are deeply longing for within our relationship.
We can become spiritual partners.
We have the opportunity to heal our individual, generational, and karmic past with the deep-seated information we attain. We can shine light and offer love onto the entrenched patterns and dynamics that have kept us feeling stuck and unfulfilled over time.
Our partnerships, according to spiritual teachings, aren’t random couplings. Every person on our path has something to teach us. There are lessons to be learned from each other.
We only need to roll up our sleeves, see the big picture, and get outside of our initial impulses and reactions. When we understand what it is that we are truly fighting about, there is clarity; it’s as if a veil has finally been lifted for us to learn and grow together.