Attaining "Sainthood"By Phyllis Stein, Ph.D.
November 27, 2008
Do you believe that your only choices in relationship conflict are to argue or get walked on? Ironically, accepting your lack of control over your partner gives you a new and better choice
I also believed for a long time that when married people are in conflict they should work thru the conflict and resolve it right then, keep talking until it was resolved, otherwise there was something wrong with the marriage. It never seemed to work in my marriage though. I brought that to an intensive once, saying, sadly, that I was not very good at communicating when we were in conflict, that I got too upset. Margaret’s eyes widened and she asked “Why would you want to communicate? He can’t hear you.” My head spun. For the first time in my life, she gave me the perspective to give myself permission to NOT engage (unthinkable growing up) because it was useless to try. So, many times after that, I did resist the temptation to try to “resolve” things. I did realize that there was nothing to say or do. The result, however was tense days of basically not talking about anything which was an improvement over futile struggling, I guess.
Fast forward to the negotiation of our separation agreement. By then I had known for 6 months that he was leaving me for another woman and it had put me on an Inner Bonding rocket ship (a great improvement over the old rollercoaster ☺ ). I had learned to bring love and connection to my little girl rather than trying to get it from him. Even though I felt great love for him, I was no longer trying to connect with him. When he got triggered, I did not feel any need to do anything about it, to defend myself, to tell him what he was doing wrong, because I was no longer trying to have any control over him about anything. I could see so clearly what I could never see when we were married, that this was totally happening because he was unable to take care of his little boy. It had nothing to do with me. I simply felt compassion and acceptance that this was where he was at that moment.
At a recent intensive this came up again, the question of what to do when someone else goes into their wounded self. It is an issue that everyone in relationship struggles with. And the answer is, truly, there is nothing you can do about them at all. You have no control. There is nothing to try to do about it. If you are in a relationship with someone who cannot shift into the intent to learn with you or you can’t with them (and you know who you are), then you can only make it worse by trying. Furthermore, and this is vitally important, when your wounded self shows up too because YOU are trying to control THEM, you begin a negative energy feedback loop that will circulate between you, keeping you both miserable, whether the conversation continues or not.
But what if you could be completely happy even though your partner has just shifted into their wounded self? What if you did not need them to be okay for you to be okay? What if you could move to compassion because you could feel how much their inner child was hurting but at the same time realize that you are not responsible for that sad child. I realized that this was what I had experienced during the separation agreement drama, when I really had no stake in whether my husband was okay or not, and that this is the same thing we can experience in an ongoing relationship once we let go of the illusion of having control over our partner. Ironically, this is very close to what my husband seemed to be demanding, except back then it felt degrading, like martyrdom and now it feels joyful and totally empowering.
Here is the tradeoff. You give up trying to be okay by having control over someone or something you cannot control and replace it with being okay by taking care of your inner child-by not engaging with their wounded self, which could mean staying or leaving depending on what your child needs. It also means that if you do get hooked and your wounded self does show up (which is guaranteed to happen), you take the opportunity to learn by removing yourself from the situation and repairing things on the inner level. You make being okay, your child being loved, your highest priority. My ex-husband was right, if I had been able to do this, it would have been much better for both of us. I though it looked like sainthood, but now I know that it is really something much, much better, being loving.
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If someone close to you is often pulling on you for love, approval, attention, you might want to notice if you are in resistance. If someone close to you is often in resistance, you might want to look at how you might be pulling with some form of control. The pull-resist system in relationships is circular.
By Dr. Margaret Paul