We argue. We have different opinions, beliefs, ways of seeing things, different tolerances and sometimes we argue over these things. The difference between an argument and a disagreement is the emotion and the behavior. Most of us notice patterns in how we argue, what we argue over and how they end up. Few of us truly enjoy being in arguments and many of us leave arguments creating judgments, making decisions about each other and holding things on each other. Relationships end from this, some never get off the ground and life-long resentments and discomfort between people can be formed.
What we were playing for last night was a big game, getting to the point where we can use arguments as access to getting “the real me” out in the world and discarding old reactions that are meant to protect us but in the end limit the possibilities of our lives.
So, last night, about 18 of us got together to talk about arguing. Here are some of the things we saw:
Our tolerance, more accurately lack of, is what starts an argument. Because we react to something, either our partner’s behavior or opinion or their tone. Once we see the trigger that we are waiting for, we are in an emotional mode, where we have a goal in mind (usually escape or neutralization/dominance) and we relate to our partner as an enemy, consciously or not.
We can create agreements with partners where we both understand that what happens in arguments are not representations of the best of us, that they can be wild and that they just may need to come out. If you make an agreement like this, you’ll be practicing handling extreme situations, which will help you in all parts of life. More about that further down the page. Other agreements we can make can include stopping conversations when we know we are about to get emotional. This is great practice at not making our emotions right, we can start to relate to them as
. They may be happening, but that doesn’t mean they are right (or wrong, for that matter). Getting someone to go along with this rule can be rocky, because you will be “taking away” your partner’s (and you own) opportunity to get his/her needs met. Being angry, reactive, etc. is ultimately selfish. We are taking care of ourselves at the expense of another, as long as they are not in agreement with us to allow us to get our needs met in that way.
We can actually increase our tolerance and in the process, present no pushback to our partner, which diffuses arguments and contributes to our partner feeling heard. Life calms down.
Feeling heard is a powerful diffuser.
Telling someone you hear them is not hearing them
. When you truly understand or hear someone, the partner feels heard. This what you’re going for. It’s a higher bar and requires zero opposition coming from you. Hearing someone does not mean you have to agree with them, but here is the important part, you have no longer related to your partner’s belief or opinion as threatening to you. They are entitled to their point of view, to how the world occurs to them and that their belief exists no longer does anything to us and from there, we are no longer threatening to them. Understanding someone never puts you at risk. It is completely different from being passive or not doing anything about something you want to change.
When we argue, the emotional memories of past arguments shows up in the moment. They show up in strong feelings, like wanting to cry or dominate or hide or injure. They show up in body sensations, like tightness in the chest or an ache in the stomach or tension in our temples (or however it shows up for you). We’re dealing with A LOT of internal stimulus when we’re in arguments. What we normally say or think is that our partner is doing something to us. This is not true. Everything that is happening is generated by
. Knowing that this is happening to us and to the person we are in an argument with can create a lot of empathy. When we recognize this, we can get outside of the argument and the emotions showing up make much more sense and appear much less personal and threatening. What is happening is being created by our past, our hormones and our nervous system. It’s a big show! Once we can start seeing that, we can learn to not identify with the experience and start to simply have it, we can willfully get on the ride with our body. It’s like the 4th of July in there!
Being with what’s so, loving what is (as Byron Katie says it) is a key to fundamentally transform relationships and ourselves. When we can be with what’s so, we can see what our partner is up to without reacting to it, we can understand what is happening to ourselves without getting caught up in it and losing control, we can start to see the gold in what people say or want beneath their tone, their own reactivity. When you can see deeply enough, you can see the beauty in another human being, especially when their highly reactive.
What we are not talking about is suppressing. Suppressing is another word for suffering. When we suppress, we are left unsatisfied. When we experience, we eventually see a powerful opening while allowing feelings and body sensations wash over us or even while acting out. But even if you are acting out, some awareness can develop, where we start to see the separation between our behavior and ourselves. If you’d like to practice this, when you are in a reactive mode, ask yourself, “am I still here?” You’ll begin to feel a separation between your reaction that is happening and yourself, which is calm, powerful and at peace even within the reaction that is occurring. The more you practice, the more the volume on our reaction quiets down and the more the volume increases on who you really are and that’s what we’re REALLY up to here, getting the real you out there, living in the world having given up on hiding away behind our reactions that are designed to protect us.
In the end, the work I share is meant to TRANSFORM YOUR LIFE, not just give you a few tips on how to more effectively handle situations. This is no easy game. The approach requires a willingness to become a master, like you are training in the martial arts or translating your soul through art. This is no temporary cure, it’s a process and a way of life.
Thank you! Practice and share with me (and everyone if you’d like!) how your practice is going. I’d love to hear from you.