In the tit-for-tat world of our psychological dramas, we tend to make life adversarial. We take sides. We look at intentions and effects such as she was late just so I’d feel bad; he said that just to hurt me. We seek redress for our insults and wounds; we keep score (you were late more often than I was; you flirted more than I did; you hurt me more than I hurt you; your meaner than I am; well, anyway, you were meaner more times.
It’s as if in trying to find peace in relationships, he thinks, she thinks, keeping score will win the day. Keeping score is like a trash can for misplaced emotions. If he or she looks at you as an enemy they’ll show you all your crimes, and prove that you’re guilty, thinking they deserve you to make up for it by loving them more because you’ll feel so badly about how you’ve behaved.
Enemy, crimes, proof of guilt, make up and love them more. This sounds more like the beginnings of a murder mystery and not a loving relationship. Doesn’t it? Unfortunately ( and fortunately, he or she isn’t a corporation that can be sued (and required to make recompense) like a faulty product. People don’t “pay up” in love because they’re shamed or proven guilty. In fact, the stronger inclination is to get away from the heat and head for the hills. Justice doesn’t always prevail. People who keep score and get pay back are like murderers of love. Aren’t they? Taking an adversarial position will only make an adversary of your mate; and adversaries make war, not love.
That’s why, when conflict arises we need to look for common ground. In the midst of the fray, when we seek the kernel of truth that can bridge us to understanding, we can find our way back to union. We all have a dark side; we’ve all hurt one another more than we’d like to admit. But even our misdeeds merit an attempt at understanding, because the truth is that even dastardly acts are born in pain. That doesn’t excuse them, of course, but it’s important to remember that even the difficult, hard, hurtful things we do to each other spring from the woundedness within us.
When I can comprehend your suffering (and, therefore, the crooked behavior you perpetrated on me) and you can comprehend my pain (and, therefore, my wrongdoing to you), we can stand face to face in compassion, unravel the missteps we’ve made, and together start over from a different place.
So if, in your heart of hearts, you seek union, pleasure, companionship, support, and nourishment from your partner, don’t make an adversary out of him or her. Even in the hairiest fray, try curiosity and kindness. “Why were you late?” “Why were you so short with me?” Try it you may find out something surprising. ( I got back a frightening mammogram today”; “The guy right next to you in the gym keeled over and died”), something which instead of turning your partner into the enemy, fill your heart with compassion. Our relationships become sweeter, deeper and more gracious when we are loving and compassionate with our partners.