“Pick your battles” is a phrase I often hear people say to friends, newlyweds or their younger protégés. I also often hear people advise one another to “wait for the right moment” to talk about issues. These beliefs have often confused me. “Picking my battles” usually means I brush unexpressed feelings under the rug. When I “wait for the right moment” to address an issue, I repress my emotions as I experience them but later blow up. When I do not express myself openly and honestly, I generate distance in my relationship and create an environment of secrecy.
These are two phrases that keep relationships from growing and reaching a true place of intimacy. I suggest replacing “pick your battles” with “know what you are fighting for” and replacing “wait for the right moment” with “take 100% responsibility for your feelings and behaviors.” Dr. John Gottman, relationship guru, claims that conflict in relationships is healthy and important. Couples need conflict. If it does not exist in your relationship, start challenging yourself and your partner. Conflict situations present moments when you can really get to know your partner and see how the two of you move towards resolution and ultimately grow from the process. It is when people withhold what they feel, act defensive, and blame others that a relationship goes sour. This is true in all relationships of intimacy – familyships and friendships.
Know What You Are Fighting For
My partner, Chris, and I often start to argue over something small, like being late to a date or checking out on our phones. One snide comment turns into a full-blown argument. I start pointing fingers, and fingers are pointed back at me. Historically, our arguments would go nowhere. Resolution was non-existent, and the same topics continually resurfaced. I would withhold my thoughts and want to blame Chris for how I was feeling. I did not take responsibility for what was going on inside me. I did not know what I was fighting for.
We started to make improvements by creating ground rules around conflict. When we argue and want to blame the other for how we feel (mad, sad, hurt, disgusted, or afraid), we ask ourselves, “What am I fighting for?” More often than not, it is to know that the other is truly listening, that we are loved, that we are respected, and that full trust exists between us. When Chris says things like, “I want to know you have what it takes to be the mother of my children and not check out on your smartphone.” I respect his honesty and see a better picture of where his feelings are coming from. We still have some work to do in this area, but it has supported our level of intimacy tremendously. Research claims couples that can share their core emotions and feelings with their partner have the greatest longevity.
Take 100% Responsibility for Your Feelings and Behaviors
There is never a “right” moment to talk about an issue. When you put off expressing how you feel, it will likely lead to invalidation, built-up resentment, and rationalization of a problem or feeling. I think about my parents’ relationship before their separation. They waited for four years to talk about the distance between them. When they finally started discussing the topic, it was too late. When you wait to share how you feel, it opens the space to start questioning your feelings, create stories that may not be true, and build up hurt or anger.
In the past, I would wait for the perfect moment to talk. Now I work to express how I feel in the moment. There are many times I do not really know what is bubbling inside me or what resolution I am looking for, but I just blurt out what I am feeling (“I am scared because…” or “I feel hurt by…”). This leads to good discussion and creates accountability between us. When I am honest, Chris is honest. I guide the direction that I want the relationship to go.
Fully expressing yourself with your partner takes practice but renders deep intimacy. Set some ground rules to work toward resolution and intimacy. My members work hard to deepen the intimacy of their relationships. They do not blame their partner but work toward their own satisfaction by taking responsibility.