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Those choices to live happier come daily especially in our interactions with others. Much to my disappointment (and I assume yours as well) we can’t control everything about our partners, friends, or family. We can’t force them to say the perfect thing or do the ‘right’ activity. Because of these differences there is bound to be conflict, disappointment and misunderstandings. In my practice, I find that the unresolved misunderstandings in relationships are one of the biggest glitches to living happier. Frequently people get snagged on the misunderstandings, wanting their partner to read their minds, take all the responsibility, or be perfect in every way. And seeing as we are all human–perfection just isn’t in the cards.
Earlier this week, I had a one of these classic misunderstandings with a good friend. I had accomplished something I was particularly excited about and as I told him I expected him to react with great joy and excitement over my news and when his reaction was different then I expected I became angry and hurt. His reaction wasn’t out of character for him or our relationship but it wasn’t the perfect reaction and didn’t live up to my expectations. In the past, if someone disappointed me or we would have a misunderstanding I would pull away, pout, and allow the interaction to cloud if not ruin much of my day. I might have confronted the person after my pouting but if I did it probably didn’t get resolved and I still had hurt feelings. In other words I would not live happier.
These days when I have an issue with someone, like this friend, I tend to go through a process of Regrouping, Responsibility and Reframe. I thought it might be helpful to introduce that concept here:
Regroup: Take time to feel what you are feeling; cry, pout, be angry etc. Express those emotions in healthy productive ways, cry, scream, hit a pillow etc. Get it out and allow new energy to come in. Realize you have a choice in how you are feeling. As I walked away from the interaction I began to cry and started my old comfortable pattern of pouting. THEN I caught myself (here is the beauty of awareness) and I told myself I had a choice. I could let his reaction to my good news make me unhappy or I could celebrate my good news and let him have his reaction. After crying and letting out my anger and frustration I was able to look more clearly at the situation and began to look at responsiblity.
Responsibility: You are responsible for your thoughts feelings and needs and for expressing them in healthy concise ways. After I regrouped, which I admit took an hour or so I was able to look more clearly at the misunderstanding. During that process I actually ran into my friend again. He apologized for hurting me and explained why he had the reaction he did. This in my mind was a CLASSIC misunderstanding–he was not acting out of a place of revenge or pettiness he was merely being himself, and acting within the bounds of our relationship patterns. In other words, he was doing the best he can with what he had. Frequently in conflicts we try to come up with blame or a right /wrong. Unfortunately it is rarely that black and white. I was upset that my friend didn’t react in a way that I wanted him too and he was reacting in a way that felt genuine and heartfelt to him. So in the responsibility phase I started to realize what is it I needed from him to feel better, what is it I needed to give myself to feel better. In reality, I needed to give myself the kudos and joy for my victory AND I needed him to be express his excitement too. The other thing that came up for me in this phase was taking responsibility that perhaps my reaction was a bit out of character for me and having some curiosity around why I might have such a strong reaction.
Reframe: Here you are allowing yourself to get a clear look at the conflict–what is REALLY going on–what do I REALLY need and how can I express that to my partner/friend. How can I reframe the conflict and resolve it? I realized through my curiosity that while I needed my friend to be excited for me, what was underlying my reaction was the fact that I hadn’t spent much quality time with him recently. So when his reaction didn’t hit my mark exactly it triggered me. I needed to reframe my anger at him and ask for what I needed. The minute I realized what was underlying the conflict and could express that need I felt happier.
That is the interesting thing about conflicts they are rarely what we are fighting about so we need to regroup, flush out the responsibility and reframe. We need to make the choice to live happier, to allow other people to not hit the mark every time and then to get clear on what we need from them to make it better.