Friday, September 27, 2013

Disagree….Yes! Disconnect….No!

I don’t know about you, but I absolutely hate arguing. I find heated exchanges to be unpleasant, uncomfortable, unsettling and most of all, unproductive. When tempers flare, logic, listening and love get tossed out the window. And without those 3 “L’s”, the proverbial gloves come off and people declare war! They hurl insults, throw daggers, use profanity, issue ultimatums, don’t listen and do and say whatever they need to do/say to “win”.

But after the emotional and verbal tsunami is over, relationships are ruined. Hearts are ruptured, feelings are hurt, boundaries are crossed, trust is violated and the most fragile parts of our souls are wounded. Emotional debris is everywhere and we are left saddened and sometimes shocked by the damage caused by our words, tone and tenor. Depending on the severity of the argument, we lose good friends. If we are lucky enough to keep the friends, our connections are weakened and our ability to feel emotionally safe is jeopardized. Things get shaky and real “friend stuff” like honesty, communication, support and vulnerability decline and/or cease.

But here is the saddest part: after the incendiary exchanges are over, the issue remains. The need/question/ subject that started the argument remains unresolved, unaddressed, unanswered and or unacknowledged. Nothing is gained but something very precious, and in some cases, very valuable, is lost. 

Since heated exchanges are not emotionally productive or spiritually healthy, I have decided not to argue. I have made a conscious and prayerful decision to only discuss and to respectfully debate. When I think about the emotional damage that I have done to people I love, it makes me more committed to converse in a disciplined, constructive and loving way. People who love me deserve my best. They deserve that I enter into conversations with Openness: an open heart, open head and with an open hand.

I believe that our lovers, friends, confidants and family always deserve our best. Even when we are upset, frustrated or irritated, they deserve our respect. Even when we vehemently disagree with them, they should expect that we will communicate with them in a space/spirit where real listening, learning and empathy take place. Those three ingredients are important expressions of love; they are love in action.

But engaging in a spirit of openness is not always easy, especially when emotions are involved. Just think about some of your verbal clashes. When feelings are hurt and when people feel threatened, hearts close, hands clench and minds shut down and/or off. We become blinded by rage and say things that consequently and unfortunately result in deep regret.
So how do you verbally disagree with someone you love or respect? That's a tough question but a good question. The bookshelves are filled with solutions and strategies that may help all of us. For now, I offer 4 actions to consider so that our mouths don’t t undermine our relationships. Let’s review.
Tip #1: Relax. Calm down, cool off, chill out, take a break and/or exhale so that you will not say or do something that you will regret. Step away and step aside so that your words don’t become emotional bullets that pierce hearts, injure spirits and wound souls. Pause, Wait and Stop! Remember this African proverb: Getting angry brings loss. So don’t risk losing your mind, your temper, her respect and her trust. The temporary relief of getting something off of your chest could have permanent consequences. Never forget that if what you say lands in her face, you both will face it again. Is it worth it?
Keep in mind that when you are no longer in control of your emotions, if you act, you become a detriment to yourself and to your partnership. Even if your feelings are valid and even if you didn’t start the fight, stop. If you feel overwhelmed, retreat. Words that are said in anger can never be recalled. Honor yourself and your partner by not talking and maintaining your composure.
Tip # 2: Reflect. After you relax, spend some time reflecting. Ask yourself the following questions:
  • Why am I angry?
  • Do I feel understood? If so why?
  • Did something hit my one of my “pain points”, areas where I feel extremely vulnerable or fragile?
  • Did something happen or was something said that reminded me of an old wound? If so how? 
  • What did I feel but could or did not express? Why?
  • What do I need to say to myself, the other person or someone from my past to feel heard or better?
  • Am I able to see the situation from another viewpoint? If not, what’s emotionally blocking my view? Why? 
  • What role is my ego playing? Is my imagination running wild?
  • What “story” am I creating about the exchange? 
  • How was her approach problematic for me? If so, what approach would work?  
  • What else is going on with me that may be influencing or intensifying my reaction to this current situation? My job? Children? Life pressures?
  • What and/or why am I hiding from? Jealously, a perceived threat, happiness?
  • How much power am I giving my pride?
These questions should help identify the source of your pain, frustration, annoyance or misinterpretation. Challenge yourself to go beyond the easy and expected reasons because the real answers are usually multi-layered and intermingled with lots of emotional baggage. Probe your spirit. Identify those hurts that are hidden in those protected places in your heart. Dig beyond the shame, insecurity, guilt, anger, feelings of worthlessness and any other residual emotions of feeling “less than”. Dig!

Many times it is behind those unexamined and unexpressed feelings where our rage resides and our wrath waits. It is behind those feelings or because of those feelings that we explode or implode and irrevocably damage our relationships. It is those emotions of feeling/being misunderstood and/or unheard that causes us to go off, get off and show off. Dig! Because hidden in the depths of our souls are the answers to our fury and pain. Hidden behind our masks, charades, egos and personas are the emotions/answers that need to released, reviewed, recounted and resolved. Dig!!! Be courageous because the answers can’t harm you; they can only heal you. Dig! The answers are already there waiting for you to explore, express and explain. It is your choice to give those emotions a voice. Courageously Dig!

If you really want to understand your emotions and reactions, dig! The African proverb says it best: To get rid of anger, first weed out the bitter root. What’s the bitter root of your rage, pain, insecurity or any other emotion that does not serve or support you? Do you really know?

Tip #3: Relate. After you have done your self-work, then and only then, it is time to talk and listen. “And” is the operative word because many of us are great at talking, but we are not as good as listening. Relating demands both; it requires honest dialogue. It requires that we tell our stories but also allow our loved ones to share their stories. We don’t have to agree but we do have to listen.

Relating demands that we honor each other’s communication styles even if the style is difficult for us. It may require us to stretch ourselves in ways that feel uncomfortable, unfamiliar and uneasy. We don’t have to be perfect but we do have to try.

It is also important to remember that your partner/friend is not you. I often hear people say “I treat people the way I wanted to be treated”. Hmmm…..but is that policy always helpful, hopeful or healing? I don’t think so. People are different; they come from different backgrounds, cultures and have different histories. As a result, if you love and value someone, it important to communicate in a way that helps them hear you and vice versa. I am not saying abandon who you are. Absolutely not! I am suggesting that your partner deserves the same or better accommodations than you give your boss, co-workers or strangers on the street. Think about it. When you get mad at your boss, you don’t holler, yell or hurl insults. You don’t tell your supervisor to kiss where the sun doesn’t shine. So why do you reserve that treatment for you partner?

Relating is not always easy, but it is always doable if you relax and reflect before you talk. It is helpful to have a plan or an intention when you revisit the topic or discuss the emotional meltdown too. Ask yourself: what do I want her to hear and how can I help her hear it? After you are clear about your message, determine a method (time, place and presentation) so that she hears you.

The African proverb says it best: To engage in conflict, one does not bring a knife to cut but a needle to sew. Before you engage, answer these questions: Am I bringing a knife or a needle to the conversation? Am I trying to mend a relationship, improve communication, strengthen the connection and recover trust? Or, do I want to fight, retaliate, get even or degrade? Do I want to be right or do I want to be in relationship? Your answer will determine your approach.

Tip #4: Release: Hopefully while relating, you are able to resolve, rectify and remedy the situation. After that it is done, RELEASE!!! Release any anger, resentment and hostility so that the healing process can begin. I think we all will agree that releasing or forgiving is easier said than done. When you feel slighted or feel emotionally bruised, it is easy to hold a grudge or maintain distance. But what is easy is not always expedient especially when it comes to healing and reconciliation. Release any negative feelings and willingly start anew.

At first, you may feel some uneasiness and awkwardness. Initially your conversations may be clumsy and you may feel some embarrassment about some of your disparaging comments. That is to be expected. However, don’t let your discomfort derail your attempts at burying the hatchet. Face the apprehension and move toward reconciliation. You are worth it and so is she.

Arguing is a part of life and is a normal part of healthy relationships. What is important is that you learn to express positions respectfully so that they don’t escalate into full-blown, take-no-prisoners verbal assaults. Good conflict is healthy but losing your connection is not. Take the time to fight fairly and respectfully so that you can CREATE LOVE that sees all, hears all and bears all. You deserve it and so does she.

I wish you well as you CREATE LOVE that serves, supports, satisfies and sustains you. If you have questions, be sure to post your question in “Ask Love”



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