We were driving across the autobahn in East Germany. As the tires sang along to the cadence of the highway's cement slabs, I found that my heart rate matched the hurried tempo. I was fuming in the passenger seat. My boyfriend and I were vacationing and I was a shadow, following him around on his dream vacation. I sat pouting because I was always sacrificing my desires to ensure his happiness.
The annoyance in his brow told me that my passive-aggression had been seen, but it was working against me. He began poking at my wall of frustration. With rage in his voice and anger in his eyes he yelled, "You love to argue!" I was being blamed for feeling insignificant, but maybe I deserved it. All he could see was my behavior, not my true desire to feel cherished.
Many think that a couple which doesn't argue has it all figured out. As a professional counselor, I'd say those who argue well are the ones who have found the true answers. These couples use open communication to avoid resentment and maturity to advocate for necessary changes.
Like me on that European vacation, many of us are desperate for signs of being loved, signs that are communicated with behaviors more than words. Someone can tell me they love me all day, yet refuse to understand the emotional cravings of my heart. Even though the words are spoken, I will still feel valueless when my partner doesn't take time to see me from the inside out.
So here are 6 ways to make sure your loved one feels loved:
1. Negative control isn't control. It will leave you powerless.
Negative control is a tactic that cons your significant other into meeting your emotional needs. It is the silent treatments, the pouting, or the heavy sighs that communicate a message of needing some sort of attention. When we use negative control we trap ourselves into getting our needs met out of coercion and insincerity. Essentially, we trap ourselves in the actor/actress role and rob our partners from expressing their love organically. The fruits of negative control are never sustainable. In other words, forcing the response we desire will work in the short-term, but we'll always remain hungry for an authentic demonstration of expressed love.
2. Take a deep breath and drop the pride.
Anger is driven by two powerful mechanisms in the brain. An amygdala sits in each hemisphere in the brain. These little groups of nuclei start to fire when we argue. They increase our heart rate, pump epinephrine in the blood stream, and literally highjack rational thinking. They are in charge of the fight, flight, or freeze survival response, which prioritizes survival more than rationale. In our fight to prove our version of truth or in our determination to have our own emotional needs met, the amygdala start to fire. We loose all sense of camaraderie and pride activates. When we argue with anger or pride we loose all ability to create a workable argument that leads to relational repair. To deactivate the amygdala, the body needs fresh oxygen. So take a deep breath and check your pride-o-meter. Consider the fact that you might be wrong and work towards cooperation more than proving. If you do so, your little amygdala will take chill pills and you'll be able to think clearly and appropriately.
3. Consider an expansion of what can be true.
In a body that is regulating its own emotions (e.g., sleeping amygdala), you might be able to see that your significant other's version of truth may be correct, as well. If so, it maybe that both are correct, and your needs matter. This is the classic both/andsituation. Give your partner grace and ask for the same.
4. Say I'm sorry because you mean it, and leave the snarky head bobble behind.
When we realize that we have lost all camaraderie with the one person we cherish, an apology will set you on the right track. Even though you have to swallow pride and breathe deeply, your other will feel validated, heard, and equal. You might even see them soften and mirror your apology. And whatever you do, apologize with sincerity, not spite.
5. Love the other not for who they can be but who they are.
While arguing many of us think we know what's best. Naturally we adopt the righteous teacher role. "Well if you just did it this way, I wouldn't be so angry," many of us say. There are two sides here. Maybe your partner could do a better job adjusting their sarcasm or passive-aggression, but maybe it's equally true that you shouldn't take it so personally. Instead of demanding that your partner change their character, spend time talking about meeting in the middle. Advocate for your needs without labeling your partner's character pathological. Love who they are and not a fantasy of who they can become.
6. Listening to the emotion, not the context.
Finessing your way into a functional relationship takes a different way of understanding your partner's words. Instead of focusing on the context, the actual interactions that led to your hurting, listen to the emotions they are communicating. Common emotions you will hear are pain, rejection, insignificance, and inequality. Remember anger is never the primary emotions. Identifying your partner's emotions will help you figure out why your partner feels like they need to protect themselves from your behavior. We call this empathy and it's hard. If you demonstrate empathy and rehearse guidelines 2, 3, and 4 four you're going to switch out of the me-verses-you mentality and into me-and-you workability.
We all desire to be loved. And what I think we're really craving is not to only hear the words, "I love you," but to feel love create internal peace, safety, and irrevocable belonging. So the next time you argue with that special someone follow these 6 guidelines. Try cherishing your loved one more than protecting yourself. If both of you can do these 6 things, you might just be one of those couples who has everything figured out. With Valentine's Day right around the corner, a new way of resolving issues might just be the best present.