Learn how to easily resolve conflict, let go of judgment, and genuinely connect with your partner (or anyone else) when saving a relationship – all by asking 1 simple question.
Selfishly, I sometimes wish my partner was just like me.
I fantasise about how great it’d be for him to see the world exactly the way I do, and to agree with everything I say.
But I (begrudgingly) admit that it’d quickly get boring; our differences make our relationship interesting.
However, I’ve recently discovered – thanks to my training in Nonviolent Communication – that I’ve always been a corrector in my relationships.
Let me explain.
Correction versus connection
I don’t ‘correct’ on purpose, I swear.
As an avid learner with a pretty unquenchable thirst for knowledge, I just know a lot of stuff… and assume other people want to know it too.
But they don’t. When my sister and I were living in Spain, for example, I was inhaling the local language at break-neck speed, and I often corrected her when she spoke in Spanish.
I mean, I wanted to be corrected, so I could learn. But my sister felt totally discouraged whenever I did it to her, because the implication was that I thought I was superior.
Another issue is that the concept of what’s ‘correct’ is completely subjective.
When I first started dating my partner, for example, I called him an “idiot” a lot (with playful intention). This was a totally normal thing in my family. Then one day, my partner told me how much it hurt him, and he didn’t want name-calling to be a part of our relationship.
Why do we want to correct?
Let’s face it, we’ve been conditioned to make judgments about pretty much everything.
And our judgments create our personal perspective of how the world works.
We assign labels such as “right”, “wrong”, “good”, and “bad”; dichotomies that serve to simplify a world bursting with shades of grey.
We also want to be right most of the time.
When we think we know best, we want to make sure our partner knows they’re wrong (I speak from experience – I was raised by a family of stubborn folk).
Conflict can escalate quickly when two people are equally unwilling to back down, both convinced that their point of view is the right one.
Saving a relationship: a daily mantra
Here’s a question to ask yourself any time you’re in conflict with your partner (or anyone else, for that matter):
Is my intention to connect, or correct?
Ultimately, connection is all we’re looking for. We just go about it the wrong way sometimes.
This question is my daily mantra; I repeat it any time I find myself in the midst of a heated debate, or feeling totally uncomfortable during a conversation.
This simple shift has completely transformed the way I approach all of my relationships.
I remind myself of this mantra as often as possible throughout the day, to keep it fresh in my mind. I even have a little cheatsheet in my daily planner (seriously – see the picture below).
However, in order to truly tease out our intention, it helps to distinguish what correction and connection look like in practice.
Intention to correct
Here’s what it looks like when our intention is to “correct” people. We want to:
- Be right
- Make someone wrong
- Educate someone
- Blame someone
- Shame someone
- Punish someone
- Get our own way
Intention to connect
Here’s what it looks like when our intention is to “connect” with people. We want to:
- Connect with ourselves and someone else
- Help create mutual understanding
- Build trust
- Reach a win/win scenario
- Approach someone with curiosity
- Create power-with (rather than power-over, or power-under)
How to shift from correction to connection
Saving a relationship takes work. First of all, notice if you’re feeling uncomfortable before, during, or after an interaction.
Are you tightening up in your body, raising your voice, or feeling defensive?
Stop. Breathe. Take a time out.
- Is it my intention to connect, or correct?
- How might I shift my intention from correction to connection?
My favourite strategies for moving from ‘correction’ to ‘connection’ are to:
- Think about the other person’s feelings and needs in that moment (this helps me to feel more compassionate)
- Let go of judgment, and get curious about the good reasons they might have for behaving the way they are (again, this builds compassion)
- Take a breather – remove myself from the situation, calm down, and reaffirm to myself that it’s my intention to connect before resuming the conversation (helps me to avoid being a dick)
And the most important element? To be kind to myself.
A lifetime of being conditioned to see the world in dichotomies takes time to deconstruct. And we’re only human.
But the more we practice striving for connection, the easier it is to deal with conflict – even in the stickiest of situations.