Have you ever found yourself in one of those moods where no matter what your partner says or does it is all fodder for the fight? Where you are angry, disturbed and nothing he or she says or does is "right" or good enough to relieve your feeling of aggravation?
We recently met a couple, "Hal" and "Mary", involved in one of these altered states of consciousness. They came to speak to us about their relationship and how, no matter what they did, it always ended in an upset and distress and their fight never seemed to completely resolve. Oh sure, it abated from time to time, but the embers of disagreement were always just below a thin skin, ready to erupt at any time.
The funny thing about it was, they were both right, from their individual points of view. From Hal's point of view, "She would always" and from Mary's point of view, he was wrong and all of her friends agreed with her take on the situation. This couple had a list of grievances that dated back to early in their relationship. These were past events over which the two of them continued to disagree.
Hal and Mary had in their relationship fundamental behavior patterns that we have seen in other intimate relationships where nothing seems to resolve. No matter how much they had tried to change or fix the situation, it continued to stay the same or got worse. So they came to us, looking at whether or not they should remain together. Their situation was further complicated by the fact that they had a 16 month old child together. By now, the sense of intimacy between the two of them had completely eroded and while they were very devoted to their daughter, she had become the focal point of many of their fights.
The real problem was that Mary and Hal, for all of their strife, were obviously still in love with each other. They just couldn't find a way to side step the old grievances which kept resurfacing that set them battling against their will.
Our usual approach to sorting out a disagreement between two people is to find out where it all started and what happened that initiated the fight. When asked what caused this behavior in the first place, both Hal and Mary had their reasons for what the other did or didn't do that created the situation and both of them were "right" from their point of view. Apparently, we had a stalemate or deadlock. No matter what you come up with, each person seems justified in his or her experience that the other is the cause of the stress, upset and dissatisfaction. This is normal for most relationships that find themselves in trouble.
In situations like the one with Hal and Mary, where they have been together several years, the starting point of the disagreement is obscured forever. So what do you do to alleviate the pain when you are locked in a habituated way of relating that seems to have no beginning and no end but keeps accelerating in its frequency, intensity and duration?
At some point the reasons why you are upset become irrelevant because everything becomes grounds for the disturbance. It has been unresolved for so long that there is no way to go back and fix all of the grievances and transgressions. So what do you do then? You can leave each other, which is what a lot of loving relationships devolve into ... it's called divorce. You can punish each other perpetually and live a life of complaint and pain. Or, you can start over.
Here is how we have done it. There have been times in our relationship when we have found ourselves fighting and we could not find a way out of the disagreement in which we were locked. Finally, we came up with a device that allowed us to stop fighting. This is what happened.
One day, we were driving into New York City and for whatever the reason, we were deeply engaged in disagreeing with each other. It escalated and it was like a sore tooth that you play with, with your tongue, we couldn't seem to leave it alone. Our silences were noisy, very noisy. And each of us was certain that we were right in our own point of view and that the other was simply wrong. We each felt picked on and misunderstood. It didn't feel good to be this way but there didn't seem to be a way to resolve the conflict. Finally, we came up with the idea of Starting Over. We picked out an overpass ahead on the highway and said, "When we go under that overpass, it is Over." This meant, that as soon as our car passed that spot we were going to operate as if this disagreeable conversation had never taken place. So on we drove. It took discipline at first to resist the temptation of thinking about the altercation that had just happened but we kept bringing our thoughts and conversation back to current things such as what we could see out of the window and our plans for the day rather than rehashing the past.
We can't remember now what our fight was about. It had seemed so important at the time, but now the details have faded into obscurity. We knew that the fight could fade away for Hal and Mary, too, if given a chance and so we suggested to them starting over. We warned them it would be challenging to not keep habitually going back to the past gripes but they grew excited and intrigued at the idea.
That night, Hal and Mary had a date. They had not been on a real, live date since before their child was born. They talked of things they hadn't in a long time and flirted and actually had fun. When they had been fighting, their sense of intimacy had severely diminished and they had grown cold to each other. Now the heat that had been lost was rekindled.
Weeks later, Mary emailed us to say that our consulting session with them had been a miracle. We agreed. Sometimes, something as simple as starting over can have miraculous results.
Ariel and Shya Kane are internationally acclaimed seminar leaders and business consultants whose revolutionary technology, Instantaneous Transformation, has helped thousands of individuals and companies worldwide. The Kanes' best-selling book, Working on Yourself Doesn't Work, is available at local and online bookstores, via the Kanes' website or by calling toll-free 800-431-1579. Ariel and Shya lead evening and weekend groups in Manhattan, dedicated to supporting people in living in the moment and having extraordinary, fulfilling lives. For more information, including dates and locations for upcoming courses, call 908-479-6034 or visit their website: