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How to Stop Irritation Poisoning Your Relationship

PHIL: So, a little back story first. I’ve sporadically been feeling claustrophobic and overwhelmed by the amount of STUFF that has accumulated around the house.

Long story short, after I had taken care of digitizing all our CDs and turned an old phone into a digital player for our cars, Maude passed on a handful of photo CDs from across the years, and I started to feel like I was the digital housemaid, which irritated me, and I was a little curt. Later, I regretted my attitude and explained what triggered it. We had a conversation about skill, expectations and competency and poof, the air was cleared. Sounds great, huh, but there are still several challenges for me. First is being able to recognize that my mood is not good, and why. Then is talking about it with Maude. The thing is that we are always, always able to untangle the situation without descending into acrimony, but I always have a little bump of hesitation before starting this. There’s a lot of history behind this reticence. My former experience was of letting things slide until the pressure built up, then boom, and the resultant mess could take all day (or worse, all night) to untangle.

I realize it’s easy to be glib about this, and that people say “Oh, it’s fine for you two; you get along so well,” and yes, we have lots of tastes in common, but I think the real reason is that we don’t want to be in conflict, so if we see that possibility arising, we deal with it. We can do this because we’re open with each other and there are no hidden reefs, because we share core values.

One last step: remain in physical contact: a hand, a shoulder, a leg. I don’t have research or articles on how this works; we just know from experience that it creates a connection that makes the whole experience different My supposition is that a whole lot of emotional information is transmitted that way.

MAUDE: Feeling irritated with your partner or friend? Such a little thing, but is it? It can often be the pea that prevents the princess from sleeping.

We had an exchange yesterday over several things that caused Phil to be irritated and respond in a snippy, rejecting manner. He didn’t seem himself, and so I asked what was up, and that created an opening for him to share what he was experiencing. I was taken by surprise at his view of what had transpired, as I had a totally different version of events.

This was a perfect opportunity to sort things out using a version of Our Process to discuss this experience. Neither of us is interested in being or remaining at odds, so an occurrence of this nature often offers us an opportunity to grow closer, rather than further apart. This is because we don’t carry these experiences around. We address them and figure out what is going on. I never feel attacked by what Phil shares. He is open enough and trusting enough to let me know what he is feeling and thinking.

We have all been a party to conflicts and even full-blown arguments at some point in our relationship lives. These deviations from loving relating can actually be the product of numerous smaller irritations that have gone unaddressed and have slowly built up over time till they explode into larger events.

When we step out of loving acceptance of each other, a whole array of small ripples occur on both sides of a relationship. The cause of these responses can be various, from old buttons being pushed to feelings of disrespect or of being ignored that set off automatic responses of protection within us.

The first result of these emotions is that they cause a distancing from our partner. The feeling of separation and defense, no matter how small it appears, brings about numerous bodily reactions in both parties. All sorts of old survival mechanisms are alerted. A foreign body is attacking! A negative energy is coming at us. These are unconscious in most cases, but they produce a whole array of defenses. Push away, pull away…push back, pull back…

When these disturbances are not addressed and communicated within the relationship, they build and fester. This can, at the same time, be an opportunity to share and to learn more about each other instead. We are not interested in drama, conflict or any sort of distancing between us. We used this opportunity to grow closer and to release any weird feelings associated with the irritation that occurred.

When Phil noticed yesterday that he had spoken in a manner that made him uncomfortable, he looked within himself to see what was happening. He chose a time when we were alone together and sitting in close contact to share what he felt and why he had spoken in the manner he did. Touch can be very helpful in these moments, if it is a comfortable choice for you. Instead of both feeling strange or hurt or distressed, we drew closer, and again had cause to realize that we both want the same things and that neither of us likes or feels good to be out of harmony with ourselves or each other.

Don’t let small irritants grow and accumulate into estrangement and resentment. Communicate and trust that both of you share the same goals of love and support. Remember at all times that you are on the same side and there is an easy way to deal with irritation. Talk to each other as friends and partners with love and understanding.

It may feel momentarily good to vent when feeling impatient or annoyed. But remember, these acts have consequences and they are neither small nor easily reversed. You will find that the biggest disturbance is within yourself. As loving persons, we do not resonate with this frequency! Peace is the way and it starts within yourself and your relationships.

Keep those comments coming! Click here to post them on the bottom of the blog. 
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Phil is co-organizing a workshop for conservatives and liberals to listen to each other (NOT to discuss issues) and learn how the other side thinks. It's on July 20th in Santa Barbara and we still have space available; observers welcome, too. The workshop is designed and run by Better Angels, a National organization. We did a previous workshop in February, and all the participants really appreciated it. Sign up here.

There is also a Skills Workshop the following week to learn how to talk with the other side. Sign up for it here.

Come and help us heal the divide. Hope to see you there!

Successful Relationship Reading Corner

BookshelfThis week, we wrote about how to stop irritation poisoning your relationship. A number of writers discuss how to keep your relationship free from squabbles.

Why You Pick Fights With Your Partner — and How to Stop "Many of us are more open and vulnerable with our partner than almost anyone else, so it makes sense that we’d be more reactive to them and more affected by their responses. However, what we’re reacting to often goes deeper than what’s going on at the surface. We all have impactful experiences and unique attachment histories that shape our behavior, as well as our expectations about how relationships work."

11 Hints for Resolving Relationship Irritations "...while we’re taught not to sweat the small stuff and to pick our battles, it’s these tiny transgressions that can build and become big stumbling blocks in a relationship. (For instance, a longitudinal study of 373 married couples found that happy couples do sweat the small stuff and work to resolve these issues right away.) So how do you resolve relationship annoyances without nitpicking, nagging or tiptoeing around your partner (and fuming on the inside)?"

5 Things to Do When You Are So Annoyed With Your Partner "Unfortunately, as you settle into a life together, you may discover that your true selves can be quite annoying. What used to seem exciting, enchanting, or intriguing now drives you nuts—sloppy habits, irrational perspectives, unreasonable standards, unskilled communication, bad fashion choices. The kindness, patience, and forgiveness that once ran thick now run thin."


Spreading peace one relationship at a time
Phil and Maude
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