How to Reframe Your Relationship for the Better

Wrong Way road signThe common wisdom about relationships is that there will be times of conflict. You will find writer after writer advising you to handle this by talking, being kind, communicating, compromising, making lists, having date nights and accepting the inevitable.

But even though that may describe the majority of relationships, we say it is not inevitable and there is another way to interact that is conflict-free, non-adversarial, peaceful. Y’all in the back row, stop scoffing and hear us out.

To change your mind on this is going to take a tremendous leap, a reframing. Darwin is to blame for giving you the wrong idea. He described life as a struggle for survival, and so we have phrases like “Nature, red in tooth and claw,” “survival of the fittest” and “law of the jungle.”* These phrases have been adopted with alacrity by proponents of capitalism and free markets.

But stop. That is not how humans interact on a daily basis. They share. They help others in need. They work together. Society is a profusion of activities that mesh together to produce the goods and services we use. The cardinal nature of these activities is that they are cooperative; they fit together to produce the end results. Competition is a pruning mechanism that removes inefficiencies, but it is not the dominant engine. People do not see the machinery of cooperation because it is ubiquitous and becomes the background against which only competition is visible. This view is endemic to the Western world.

And so it is that this mindset is carried forth into relationships. People have come to believe that they must accept the inevitability of arguments, estrangements, and the growth of distance from hurts and unresolved conflict in their relationship. They have been led to believe that at best they can learn ways to deal with these conflicts in a positive manner and that this will lessen the natural burden of discord relationships bring with them.

Experts say there’s always conflict in relationships. We say it's not inevitable: there’s another way Click To TweetWe teach that there is a route to resolving differences; one that does not entail conflict and does not involve compromise. We have shared a relationship of this nature for 15 years. There are, of course, factors that make this possible. One that is basic to this reframed way of being is matching core values: ours match.

A core value is something you need to have in your life to be fulfilled. These are the basic underlying principles that do not change with the color of the living room, one of you becoming ill or losing a job. They are felt, rather than thought, so yours may not be evident without some reflection. We’ve written elsewhere about this, so check there for details.

Another very critical factor is a mutual commitment to discover and share a different kind of relating. This commitment must be there from both parties, or it will not work. Many forms of relationship will be possible without this mutuality, but not the one we describe and promote – not one with the experience of peace as a palpable reality.

We do not suggest that you will automatically know how to do this. We do, however, insist that it is possible. To move along this path you must apply two elements; belief and intention. You must believe (or at least suspend disbelief) that it is possible to find your way to this way of being with each other, and most importantly, you must both share the intention to do so. It is helpful to speak this out loud to each other and to reaffirm it when one or both of you appear to stray from this stated intent.

The way to agreement lies in the fact that underneath an individual demand is a deeper want, and that has several ways to be satisfied. Below that want is a deeper need in turn, also with different ways to be fulfilled, and as you continue to explore your motives, your tree of possibilities grows and you get to deeper levels of understanding.

For instance, you want to go to an afternoon movie. On deeper examination, you realize you want a break from all the things you have to take care of, and looking even further, you realize you want that free-flowing feeling you had as a kid when you went to an afternoon movie. So as long as you get the feeling you’re really looking for – turns out it doesn’t matter what the activity is. This is the kind of thing you uncover when you’re doing this process. You realize what is actually important for you.

As the two of you continue this process, you are bound to find a solution that works for both of you because it will stem from your shared core values. This way of finding mutual agreement is what we call Our Process.

When the two of you
• share core values,
• realize that a relationship is cooperation, not competition,
• commit to wanting a peaceful relationship, and
• explore your needs in a non-confrontational manner,
you will have a center of peace that can withstand the storms of the world.

* Tennyson, Spencer and Kipling.


Photo credit: Phil Mayes

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4 comments on “How to Reframe Your Relationship for the Better
  1. iris cutler says:

    YES! Conflicts are ALWAYS WITH ONES SELF! but they manifest while talking to others…especially those we have heartstrings with…The one and only key is self interrogation. Feeling conflicted? Blame no one else. Look within your heart, that is where the conflict is. Very convenient to focus the conflict on another. But that is a style, and we can change the style in which we speak.think. act! YAY! I apreciate your column!

    • Phil says:

      I love your understanding of the importance of self-reflection and for seeing that how we see ourselves is also how we see the world.
      Thanks, Iris

  2. Lucie says:

    Love this approach!! I do my best to avoid conflict and I like to communicate before anything gets too complicated. I like to think that conflict in a relationship is avoidable!

    • Maude says:

      We know from experience that it is possible. In order to have this experience, you must both be committed to a relationship in which you create mutual solutions that work for both of you (not compromise – co-creation ).
      thank you
      Maude

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