This Insight is on the longish side, because it is a longish issue, so fasten your seat-belts, sit back and relax, as they say on the airlines. So, what do we mean, “confront the issue or forgive and forget”? There are some variations on this theme:
“Have it out – or bury the hatchet”.
“Bring it into the open – or sweep it under the carpet.”
“I just want to forget that it ever happened, and move on.”
“Sit on it – or clear the air.”
“Why talk – its business as usual”.
“Why bring that up again? Its done. We can’t do anything about it!”
Behind all of these statements is the idea (illusion?) that you have to forget that it ever happened in order to move on. Facing conflict is difficult, right? It takes courage to take up these conversations!
Behind “confront the issue or forgive and forget” there is a belief in an either/or. Such as, that you can have it out – OR bury the hatchet. Maybe you bring it into the open – OR sweep it under the carpet. Or even that keeping the peace means that you never confront, and pretend for the duration of the relationship that everything is OK. But then you are really seething inside. As a result, venomous comments erupt, and your relationship is anything but peaceful.
Or he says, ”You’ve never really heard myside of the story, and until I’ve had my say, and you can hear it, I’m not ready to move on!” And sometimes getting someone to really hear takes you all the way to a messy court case, where, finally, you are listened to. Or that is the hope. That is the demand. Sometimes you feel greatly vindicated by your day in court. And sometimes not. But did you really have to go down that volatile, vindictive and expensive road?
Could you have heard each other out over the small matters, before those matters became bigger and the conflict defined the relationship? Then ended the relationship?
You are likely to discuss difficult issues positively if you have a secure attachment. (I have devoted an Insight to Attachment Styles in relationship.) With a secure attachment you are likely to be able to initiate difficult discussionswith relative ease. Securely attached people are also able to respond positively when challengedby their partner.
If your attachment style is on the insecure side, conflict feels more global and life-threatening. You might become conflict-avoidant when suffering. You might feel humiliated, shamed, guilty and rejected whenever touchy issues are raised. Especially when this also happened in early childhood.
If you have an insecure attachment style, it feels more like an attack on your person than confronting an issue. The good news is that a solid lasting relationship is a wonderful place to develop an “earned secure attachment”, as its called. In other words, your family of origin might not have provided the foundation for a secure attachment, but you can learnto be securely attached. One way your newly acquired secure attachment shows up is in being able to tolerate – and even enjoy – sorting through touchy issues with your partner.
When I hear a couple trying to shout each other down, or shut each other down, the fundamental issue is that neither is feeling heard. The often unspoken plea is, “Just hear me out”.
Q: But how can I hear you out when you are saying things that I believe are not true?
A: Don’t take things personally.
The Couples Institute have a process they call Initiator/Inquirer, and others have developed a similar process. This process has great value because it gives you each clear roles on being the listener and being the talker. Your partner really will hear you! And you take turns.
Q: How can we do this?
A: Both perspectives have equal validity, and must be heard..
Sometimes the first time you try this it is best to do so with a therapist skilled in the method. The therapist will make sure both of you are in a safe place, and neither of you take over, or talk over.
This is what someone said after one of these sessions:
“The most helpful session was one after the big argument. Our behaviour towards each other was awful. We had no means to stop and we were both exhausted. Gently guiding us down the road of re-opening our lines of communication was just what we needed. It was reassuring to have a therapist who was able to hold the perspectives of both of us so we both felt heard.”
“Hold the perspectives of both of us so that we both felt heard”. That’s the piece of gold. Sure, the therapist can do this for you, but ultimately you do this for yourself and your partner. You each do it. Hearing each other out builds trust. There are a few rules:
We can’t REALLY forgive and forget until the issues are acknowledged, spoken, and heard. Then we can move on – and there is nothing under the carpet!