I got into a fight with Lauren Roberts in London.
We are sitting on the couch in our flat and I am working on a graphic design project when she asks me several questions about how I’m going about it, and ends with: “Why would you do it that way?”
My internal reaction to Lauren’s question is immediate. I begin running through a list of justifications and defenses for my actions. My weapons are drawn and defenses raised, before I am even aware of what is happening.
This isn’t a loud, demonstrative, or obviously argumentative fight. My mother trained me early and often, by force of switch, ruler, belt, and hand, that talking back is not an option. No, this is character assassination by sniper, perpetrated in the mind, utilizing my arsenal of stored up petty wrongs and grievances, which I have been cataloguing for this exact purpose.
I answer her with an attempt to deflect the conversation: “I’m doing it this way because I’m doing it this way.”
She gets up from the couch and goes about her business. I sit there and ostensibly continue working, but now I’m using jerky and exaggerated movements, as if to assert my righteousness. Externally, I’m quiet and appear focused on my computer, but the exterior calm belies my internal turmoil.
I take Lauren’s questioning my actions as an impugnment of my intelligence, decision-making ability, and manhood. I interpret Lauren’s intention as accusatorial and not inquisitive. I feel like I am being told that I've done something wrong. Suddenly, in my mind, we are at odds, and not on the same team, so I feel distance between us. My mindset turns adversarial and I begin to view all of our interactions through this new lens. I continue working, doing it the way I am doing it, armed and ready to combat any future hostile infiltration.
I sit there, walled off emotionally, my ego feeling superficially protected. I get to be right, and there is a certain rush of being in battle mode, as I start tabulating all the ways that I am being unjustly injured.
My posture of justification and defensiveness causes me to withdraw further and further into myself, taking me out of the current moment of life and isolating me within the dank cellar of my mind, where I take counsel and comfort from the corpses of real and imagined injustices of the past.
The energy that is generated by this self-righteous indignation is not a creative force. It does nothing to forward what I am out to create in life. At best, it is a distraction from my ability to enjoy life and create the world I want. This energy creates distance, separation and loneness. At worst, it is the beginning of a slow dissolution of my ability to feel love and affinity for the person I love the most in this world.
The weight and pain of recasting my friend and lover as my betrayer and adversary suppresses my joy, my self-expression, and my power. If I allow it, another layer of scar tissue will form from this self-inflicted wound, eventually becoming an impenetrable armor of distrust, self-justification, and isolation.
Can you relate?
Assuming you are human, too, I imagine that you can.
So, what do I do, and what can you do, if you do not want separation to creep into your relationships? How can you prevent it from happening, especially when starting down the path is an automatic response that begins before we are even aware it’s occurring?
The first step is to pay attention to your moods and behaviors and to be honest about them, with yourself and others. Being honest takes work and constant practice for me.
As soon as you realize that you are creating separation between yourself and someone you love, give up the right to defend yourself and let go of the intoxicating rush of being justified in your anger.
I take a deep breath. Or several. This calms my body and breaks the flow of negative thoughts.
Recreate what you are committed to having the relationship be like. Paint a mental picture of how you actually want it to be, and experience the positive emotions associated with that vignette. Make the choice for it to be that way, NOW!
Ask yourself: if your relationship was exactly how you want it to be, right this moment, how would you act? What thoughts about your partner would you have? What would you say? What would you do? Take full responsibility for your actions and words. Give up being the victim. Clean up anything you need to with the other person.
This is not about you putting up with either physical, mental, or verbal abuse. Sometimes taking responsibility looks like setting boundaries, and not allowing the other person to violate their own integrity and humanity by treating you in certain ways. That may mean ending abusive relationships.
What this is about is you standing in your own power, irrespective of the actions of others. This is about you creating and living the life of your design and not surviving an automatic and reactionary life.
Within the hour of realizing that I was creating separation, I shifted my thoughts and behaviors back to love and affinity for Lauren. A fight that would have lasted for days early on in our relationship, never had time to fester or grow into a lasting barrier between us.
The next day we enjoyed the Queen’s Walk and ended the day watching the sunset at Big Ben. Together.
You hold the power to make your relationships great.
Will you create wonderful memories or breed anger and resentment?
The choice is yours.