Yet, as often as we hear these clichés, we remain incredibly individualistic. We are determined to do things our way, maintain our stubborn positions, and fight tooth and nail to drive our personal agenda.
Stubborn individualism is, in my opinion, at the root of many relationship problems. Couples coming for couples counseling are, without exception, caught in power struggles. Rather than attacking their problems, facing issues as a team, they attack each other. It is no wonder by the time they reach me they have wounded and bruised each other until there are only a few frayed strands holding them together.
I am often reminded of one of Abraham Lincoln’s famous speeches where he, quoting from Scripture, spoke about a nation divided, saying “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” Scripture reminds us, "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand” (Matthew 12: 25).
This is eminently true in relationships as well. Yet, we continue to battle each other instead of sitting down in a spirit of reconciliation, laying out our troubles, preparing to face them as a team.
Let’s consider some of the tools couples can use to face problems in a healthier way, learning to attack problems and not each other.
1. Don’t Make Your Mate Your Enemy
Remember that arguing with your mate over any issue will erode the integrity of your relationship. Extensive arguments erode positive feelings, leading to bitterness and resentment. When a couple battles over any issue for a protracted period of time, they become enemies. They lose perspective and the issues actually become larger rather than smaller.
2. Take Your Mate’s Perspective
Second, taking a position against our mate is in itself divisive. It is very easy to make an enemy out of your mate for their point of view. Slow down, soften your point of view to include an understanding of why your mate believes the way they do.
Third, practice empathy for their point of view. While your mate may indeed become too rigid in their perspective, empathizing with them will have more chance of softening them than tackling them head on.
4. Find Common Ground
Fourth, seek points of agreement. Discover what points you agreement upon, focusing on them rather than on the ones where you disagree. Always strive to find places where your opinions overlap and build upon them. With this focus you will lessen any likelihood of becoming overly focused on places of disagreement.
5. Get to the Point
Finally, fight the problems, not each other. Agree that you need to become better communicators, seeking ways to make that happen. Agree you need to fight less frequently, seeking ways of healthier conflict resolution. Agree that you have places of disagreement—which is perfectly natural. Finding ways to compromise will be a challenge, but you’re up to the task. Practice asking each other, “How are we going to solve this one?” Emphasize to each other, “We need to be a team in facing this problem.” Notice how this attitude draws you together.
Teamwork works not only in the sports arena, but in relationships as well. Practice some of these tools and let me know how they work for you!
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