A professor noticed that anxiety and excitement have several physiological markers in common, so she recruited people to sing karaoke, and quelled their anxiety by having them say “I am excited.” This did not change the anxiety, but it did change how the people were able to act. They were more productive, and could achieve their goal more easily just by repeating the sentence “I am excited” out loud before doing the activity they were anxious about.
This is like flying. From finding a bargain to security to small seats, flying has become an event to endure, but Phil still finds the takeoff to be an exhilarating experience: the nudge of the seat when full thrust is engaged; the moment when the nose lifts and a hundred tons of metal leaves the ground; the view of the city as houses become dollhouses, show off the swimming pools in their back yards and shrink further to pixels.
But for some people, it is a fearful event; you can see them grasping the arm rests and gritting their teeth, and Phil always thought that they were experiencing the same event as him and interpreting it differently.
Suppose a similar reframing could be applied to conflicts? They are about much more than the surface issue; You can probably recall the feeling, the location and the time arc of some arguments with ex-partners without any recollection of what the argument was about.
Arguments are about boundaries between people, and there are two sorts. One is where you feel your boundaries are being encroached on in some way: you can’t get any quiet time for yourself; you’re not getting your share of the storage space; you’re being taken advantage of financially; it’s always you that sweeps the floor.
The other boundary belongs to the other person, and they use it to hide from the world: you can’t be sure of what they’re really thinking; they use fashion as an identity; what you’re being shown feels like a hologram; they’re sometimes not available.
When you’re feeling distant or angry with your partner, try reframing your feelings #relationships Click To TweetTo talk about boundaries is to talk about identity. A circle is defined by its perimeter. A country is defined by its borders. Boundaries are how we categorize and make sense of the world, but they are often fuzzy. Clouds have no hard edge when flying through them. Does this movie count as film noir? What is the difference between trees and bushes? When does gossip become slander?
What about you? Are you defined solely by the boundaries of your skin or is that just your physical presence? Are your possessions part of you? Are you defined by your family, your job, your name, your country, your species, your gender, your sports team, your political leaning?
When there is a change in one of those things, it can affect you just as much as a physical wound, and yet our true self is not found there, so when something shifts, we have an opportunity to learn a little more about who we are.
In a similar way, a conflict that pushes on the boundaries in a relationship can teach us more about ourselves, and we can welcome that, rather than finding it threatening. Picking up on the opening idea (watch the video here), we can reinterpret our feelings of fear, anger or separation as excitement, find out more about ourselves, and in our relationship come from mutuality.
The next time you are feeling distance from your partner, anger at what they are saying or hurt and frustration towards them, try reframing your feelings and words. If you and your partner can agree to try this together, you will be well on your road to turning this into an opportunity for increased closeness. Our suggestion is to say out loud, “I’m excited to find mutual solutions.”
Try a new approach and have some fun with it. You may find that just by stating willingness and excitement, that you experience more ability to grow together instead of feeling apart!