– How to avoid a lengthy argument right at the beginning.
“You seem angry!” – Have you ever heard this statement? Have you ever gotten angry hearing this statement, when you hadn’t been angry before? I have. It is a triggering statement for me, because I would like to think of myself as calm and composed. I might even get into an argument about whether I am indeed angry, or not. And, as I am asserting my view I will get angrier and angrier…
From personal to relational empowerment
“There is no such thing as self-realization. We can only truly realize ourselves in connection with those we love, the culture we live in, and the planet as a whole.”– Terry Real, 2020
Here is a way out of that cycle. It works every single time, and it will usually shorten the otherwise looming argument to under a minute. The trick is to reach beyond “personal empowerment” all the way to “relational empowerment” (Terry Real “The New Rules of Marriage”). So how does that work? Let’s look at the personally empowered attitude first.
When I come from personal empowerment I think something like: “Do not tell me how I feel!” And I will focus on empowering myself, claiming my right to feel whatever I feel. You better not patronize me by telling me what that is! This will probably lead to a lengthy fight, or at least to tension and disconnection, where there could be playfulness and affection.
How is the attitude of “relational empowerment” different? When I take that attitude, I focus not on empowering myself, but on empowering the relationship. I think something like: “Looks like there is less safety between us right now, and my partner is speaking up about that. I need to make a move to restore safety between us.” I then do just that by saying, for example: “I wasn’t aware of being angry. Let me take a breath and slow down.” Then I take a deep breath and make eye contact with my partner.
Wait a minute! Isn’t that admitting to being angry, even if I am not? Not strictly speaking, and it could still be interpreted like that. Chances are, I was tense, frustrated or rushed. Science shows that other people usually pick up on my level of aggravation faster than I do (Stan Tatkin, Relationship Rx). So maybe I was a little angry. Or maybe I was not. Does it matter?
The magic move is faster and kinder
In any case, it is faster and kinder to take care of my relationship, which includes me and my partner. This means letting go of the past observation which cannot be proven right or wrong anyway, and reassuring my partner of my good intentions:
“I want you to feel safe when we are talking. Let me take a breath. Does this feel better?”
And that is the magic move. Instead of arguing about whose view is right (“No, I was NOT angry!”) I save time by remembering that I want to feel safe and have my partner feel safe, too. I state my good intentions, and reassure my partner by saying or doing something caring. Once we both feel relaxed again, we can enjoy our combined creativity and resourcefulness to tackle whatever we are tackling in the moment.
Relational Empowerment will empower your relationship AND you
This attitude of taking care of the relationship by taking care of myself and my partner is called relational empowerment. In order to take this inspired and modern approach I need to (1) realize the importance of relationship for me, and (2) I need to feel personally empowered, so that I do not concentrate my main effort on becoming personally empowered.
And anyway: What is the best way to become truly personally empowered? Get into a relationship and take good care of it. It will show me where my blindspots are, and it will challenge me to deepen my ability to love myself and my partner for as long as I choose to invest in it.
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