So the two of you are in a tussle. Maybe she forgot to finish the financial report before you met with your bank. Maybe he forgot to send out the pre-meeting materials for an important session with the Board of Directors. Maybe the two of you can't agree where the company is going or how to get there. Whatever the main issue is, you are deep into talking about the problem now. Each of you may be lobbing stray accusations like rocks, wanting to affix blame, making unconfirmed assumptions, dredging up old arguments and past transgressions. You've hit a wall, and the two of you keep adding rocks to it.
You keep hitting your head against this rock wall and maybe the situation escalates. The impact of the initial issue was big enough, but now the two of you are blowing it up into something of catastrophic proportions. Your whole partnership is riding on the other person "getting it", of you winning, of your solution being the one agreed to. Each of you may have feelings of hurt, anger, sadness or frustration –- or all these feelings at once, and more. Each of you may be reading way more into the situation than originally existed. You are both well and truly, or even way past, "upset".
Remember back to your last big "upset" with someone very close to you, someone you care about. (Remember to breathe!). What were your feelings? Now look below your feelings to your expectations, your dreams for what might have been. What was your expectation of how it "should" have been? What was the hope or desire that was not met? How did that unmet expectation, hope, or desire impact your heart? What fears did it bring up in you for the future of your relationship? What was the relationship dream that was being shattered?
This is where you'll find the dream behind the conflict. Every conflict has an unexpressed and unfulfilled dream; an expectation of how it "should" be that is not being met, a hope which is being crushed, or a fear that is being activated. In the case of mowing the grass, this might be coming up against a belief that taking care that the yard looks good for your boss means she loves you – and since she didn't do that she must not love you. Or with the kids, that his forgetfulness means that he doesn't love you and the kids, and you fear that your marriage is headed for the rocks.
So put the rocks down and take a step back. Breathe and slow down. Take a look at what you are really upset about. Perhaps this is something that you've argued about over and over again. Maybe this is not the first time you've had this discussion and you are no closer to a solution than you were before. If so, this may be what John Gottman calls a perpetual problem: 69% of all marital issues are perpetual. Think about that -– 69%! This means that most relationship systems problems cannot be resolved. That's the bad news. The good news is that they can be managed.
So stop trying to solve the problem! I know, this flies in the face of conventional wisdom, but stay with me here. Instead of using your head to figure out a solution, use your heart to become curious about your partner's dream that is being crushed. Avoid trying to assign blame or make someone wrong here. You are trying to find out what is truly upsetting about the situation – what expectation is not being met and how that affects your partner's dream for the two of you. Listen for the fear that is being fed.
Listen as openly as you can. Don't spend time thinking up rebuttals – look below the surface to the heart-space. What is the longing, the strong desire that means so much to them? Why is that important to them – what value does it have for them? Hear their dream and gently and lovingly encourage them to expand on it. Then when your partner's dream is fully expanded, ask your partner to listen to your dream, without rebuttal or problem-solving. Listen from your heart and share from your heart.
Listening and speaking from your heart takes courage. This is not using the logical side of your brain to design a compromise. The key is to listen to each other with your heart, to honor and acknowledge the other's dream, and to allow a compromise that works for the two of you to naturally arise. This takes the two of you helping each other to stay calm and to remember that you are both in this together. It means that you need to realize that any solution that "solves" the problem at the expense of the other's dreams will only raise its head again. And in the process of uncovering the dreams, most likely, a working agreement that honors both of your dreams will naturally present itself.
So here is my wish for you. Even in the midst of conflict, honor each other's dreams. Recall why the two of you got together in the first place; the special and unique relationship dream that the two of you share. Or maybe you are in the midst of redefining your dreams and things are unsettled at the moment -- it's normal for things to flair up, so give yourselves a break. Next time you find yourself in the middle of an argument, try to uncover the dream that is underneath it. And if you want additional support for making this happen, call me; that's what I'm here for -- to help the two of you restore your dreams, your passions, and guide them to reality.