Read on for the next 3 acts of Relational Heroism:
7) Implicit in letting go of the “need to be right” is the necessity of accepting my partner’s distortions. Many arguments persist because one or both partners keep trying to correct the others “incorrect version” of a conversation or conflict. Much better to accept the fact that frequently two partners have very different memories about an event or argument that took place in the past, and that it is fruitless and often destructive to keep trying to correct my partner’s reality.
8) Metabolize resentments. Much heartache in marriage results from one or both partners brooding endlessly over resentments from the past, and as a result chronically feeling hurt or used or taken advantage of. These resentments create emotional distance and and an ongoing vulnerability to being triggered into anger or antagonism. John Gottman writes that happily married couples “communicate their fundamental fondness and respect. Whatever issue they are discussing, they give each other the message that they love and respect each other, ‘warts and all.’”
Gottman continues: “When couples are not able to do this, sometimes the problem is that they are unable to forgive each other for past differences. It’s all too easy to hold a grudge. For a marriage to go forward happily, you need to pardon each other and give up on past resentments.”
9) Humbly acknowledge “projective identification”: In his provocative book, Should You Leave?, psychiatrist Peter Kramer writes cogently about this powerful dynamic that is at play in much of marital conflict. Projective identification is the process whereby I unconsciously provoke my partner into acting like my difficult parent. Kramer writes, “Some of what you complain about in your partner is of your own making.” (p. 220)
With the help of marriage or couples therapy, recognizing that projective identification operates in most all relationships helps us to develop more humility and compassion toward our partners. It is not simply that my partner has a personality that is difficult for me to handle, although that may also be true. In fact, I share responsibility for my partner’s traits and behaviors. I am unconsciously provoking my partner to act in ways that may drive me crazy!
Knowing that this is the case helps me to continue to work on my tendencies toward blaming or defensiveness, as well as on my self-differentiation, which has been defined as “resistance to the interpersonal contagion of anxiety (or anger).” Kramer writes, “Differentiation of self is very largely the capacity to resist, and to resist employing, projective identification.” (p. 216)
Until next time, peace.