How to Avoid Getting in a Fight With Your Partner
CEO, Founder of The Granger Network
“He’s going to be so annoyed.”
That thought often occurs to me whenever I’m late finishing up the workday… It’s not like I plan it this way. When I tell my husband I’ll be done at 5:00 PM, I mean it. Truly. But you know how one thing leads to the next. A meeting runs long. Someone calls unexpectedly. Suddenly, you’re an hour behind schedule. Such is the plight of a busy business owner, I suppose.
The internal monologue continues as I grip the steering wheel: “Oh God, I’m so in the dog house…again…but that’s so unfair!…it’s not like I was off getting an aromatherapy massage at the Four Seasons…but somehow I just know I’ll end up the bad guy…how predictable…”
It’s not hard to imagine how the story plays out when we finally sit down for family dinner. A sheepish, guarded “hello” to my husband. Treading on eggshells, while watching closely for any slip-up on his end to even the playing field. “Ah, I see those plates are still in the sink from this morning…” is a preemptive defense implying: I’m not the only one who doesn’t do exactly what they say 100% of the time.
“I’m in trouble” is the invisible hand informing everything that I do and see. A constant reminder that: I fell short. I am vulnerable. And since I am also human, I will shield that vulnerability, as I have been programmed to do since childhood. That impulse served humans well as hunter-gatherers dodging ravenous tigers. Fast forward to the 21st century, and that same impulse while useful in some situations, wreaks havoc on our relationships. The net result of these protective strategies? Passive aggression. Suspicion. Tension. A severed connection to one another.
To break the cycle, I take a giant step back and reflect on two things: 1) My husband has yet to say a word in this vignette and I have already taken us down the familiar path I don’t want to go, and 2) Is this what I want from this evening? When our heads hit the pillow at the end of the night, what will have truly mattered? Admittedly, it doesn’t feel good to get called out on my mistakes (which again, hasn’t actually happened yet). I know that feeling, and I don’t like it one bit. But, finding love and connection with my spouse? That matters more. It matters most.
So, here’s a simple yet powerful practice that helps: Take a pause. In my case, as I pull the car into the driveway or close my computer for the day, I might avoid barreling headlong through the doorway. Instead, I am learning to take sixty seconds before coming to dinner—yes, even if it makes me later than I already am!—to repeat what matters, like a mantra: “I stand for love and connection with the person I care about most.” Maybe I write it down on a scrap of paper and then slip that message into my pocket so that I’m literally carrying it with me into dinner.
Now, when I ditch the internal mantra, “He’s going to be so annoyed” and replace it with “I stand for love and connection,” how does the night play out differently? Night and day! Without the need to protect myself from accusations or to even the playing field by accusing my husband of other missteps, I naturally find opportunities for that love and connection. Instead of offering a guarded half-smile, I offer a warm embrace. Instead of zeroing in on the unwashed dishes, I notice the picture frame that he hung up just like I asked. (Thanks, sweetie!) Even if he does say something about me being late, it does not devolve into a vicious attack/defend cycle. I can just acknowledge it authentically, smile and apologize.
Of course, this is easier said than done. Taking a pause in moments like this and interrupting the survival tactic we’ve practiced for a lifetime, is a skill that must be continually developed—I still work on it every single day, and I’m far from perfecting it. But, its power to shift a day-to-day point of conflict is extraordinary. One sixty-second pause can lead to hours of love and connection at home with my family. Day after day, that adds up to a significant and important part of my life.
Of course, these lessons are as applicable at work as in the home. Imagine: In 15 minutes you have a Zoom meeting that you called. And you feel woefully under-prepared. You meant to do all kinds of research and brainstorming ahead of time. Then the week got away from you and, well, you are not ready.
Again, welcome to Choose Your Own Adventure, work edition! Two options. Option 1: You go in thinking, “This meeting will be a disaster.” With that way of thinking, you’ll probably get your wish! With that lens, what behaviors are likely to result? You’ll be nervous. On guard. Defensive. Resigned. Insecure. You probably won’t hear much of what anyone else in the meeting is saying because of your internal monologue of disappointment for not showing up how you wanted to be. You might also be focused on distracting your colleagues from your own unpreparedness and making it seem like you know more than you do. Not good.
They inevitably will be frustrated about not being heard in the conversation, and they will see right through your feeble attempts at putting on a good show by how weird you’re acting. In short — it’s a waste of time and energy for all involved (whether they call you out on it or not).
Option 2: Before heading into the meeting, you take a minute. You think to yourself: What really matters here? In 45 minutes when this meeting is through, where do I want to be? Well, with that lens, you might get past worrying about what your colleagues will think about you and your (lack of) preparedness, and regain focus on what’s of fundamental importance: moving the project forward with alignment and ensuring that everyone can make a valuable contribution.
Suddenly, it becomes possible to frame the very same meeting in a wholly different way for yourself: “I will use the meeting as an opportunity to really listen fully to my colleagues, to ask relevant questions, and use a more collaborative decision-making model.”
So, the next time you are heading into a situation that you just know is doomed from the start, do yourself a favor and take a pause to center yourself in what matters most deeply. More likely than not, a pathway will emerge toward getting there, even if it’s not the one you had planned on. All your partnerships and endeavors will be healthier for it.
Give ‘the pause’ a shot and let us know how it goes! We’d love to hear your insights, ideas, or struggles so that we can support one another.