No matter how young or old you are, or how hard things have been, it’s never too late to review what works and what doesn’t work in your life. It’s easy to lose focus on what you really want due to the daily demands of life. However, there’s always a way to look at your life differently, to ...No matter how young or old you are, or how hard things have been, it’s never too late to review what works and what doesn’t work in your life. It’s easy to lose focus on what you really want due to the daily demands of life. However, there’s always a way to look at your life differently, to discard old habits, and to invite in new ideas and behaviors.
Things get jumbled because there is always so much on our plates, and it’s hard to get clear about realistic intentions in both your personal life and in your relationships. This is where my theory of the “first argument” can be usefully applied. The first argument is rarely resolved, but continually plays itself over and over again in different forms, until it is finally looked at and dealt with. Within that first argument are clues as to what is important to each person in the relationship. An argument usually arises when one or both partners are not getting their needs met. If we’re not getting our needs met, it’s hard to stay focused on what we originally wanted in our relationships both for our self and our partner.
To help you identify and focus on what you really want in your relationship, go back to the beginning of your relationship. What were your initial dreams and goals? This will give you an idea of what was important to you then. Also look at your first argument and see if this argument and the subsequent ones began to make you doubt whether your own dreams and goals were even possible. The more discouraged we get because of unresolved issues in our relationships, the more we wonder if anything we ever wanted is possible to have. So go back and see what you wanted, and make a list of those things. Now look at present time and see what’s happened to those dreams and goals. Do you still want the same things? Did you give up on yourself and your relationship because things got too difficult? Did you lose hope? Do you feel helpless to resolve issues in your past? If you start to get clear about your past and present desires, you can begin to understand what you want for yourself and your relationships, and move forward.
For example, you may have had dreams of traveling and believed your partner had the same dreams. However, during an early argument, your partner suddenly announced that he/she is afraid of flying and, therefore, he/she doesn’t see doing much traveling in the future. At that point, you may have felt betrayed and disillusioned about getting your needs met, which may have led to resentment and unhappiness in your partnership. There are several ways to begin to get clear about this issue. First, evaluate how important traveling is for you. If it is still important, you can begin to look at solutions. Maybe your partner would be amenable to alternative ways to travel besides air, i.e., car, bus, or train. If not, then you might consider traveling alone, or with a friend or relative. Whatever you decide, you can see how looking at your first argument can help you become aware of some of your personal needs and evaluate their importance, and start the process of resolution.
The following are six ways you can stay focused on what you really want in your relationships:
1. Make a list of what you want for yourself and your relationships.
2. Look back to the beginning of your relationships and see what you wanted then. Do you still want that now?
3. What’s getting in the way of fulfilling your intentions, goals, and dreams?
4. List some unresolved issues within yourself and your significant relationships. If these issues are still important to you, you might want to work on resolving them. If these issues are no longer important to you, you might want to let them go.
5. If you decide you do want to resolve some of the issues, after each issue, write down how you’d like to resolve it, and three ways you can begin to resolve it. Be realistic. Make small goals, not huge ones, or you’ll get overwhelmed.
6. Put dates on your list to see if things are moving along. The main thing with change is that we need to be consistent and persevering. Write down where you want to be six months or a year from now with these unresolved issues. When you’ve done with the first three, start with the next three, etc.
Sharon M. Rivkin, the author of The First Argument: Cutting to the Root of Intimate Conflict, is a conflict resolution expert and licensed marriage and family therapist. She has been in private practice for 28 years in Santa Rosa, California. She is also an experienced public speaker. Her work has been featured in several national magazines and websites including O: The Oprah Magazine, Reader’s Digest, Yahoo.com, and Dr.Laura.com as well on local television and countless radio shows. For more information, visit www.sharonrivkin.com.