When is the last time you had a healthy confrontation with someone important in your life?
"Babe, I love you... but you're getting fat. Let's work on this together."
If you're in a relationship, and you haven't had a confrontation in recent memory, you're probably not being fully honest with each other.
Most likely, your relationship could be better.
The reason is simple....
As long as you and your partner are both living, growing, changing people, your relationship will also be a living, growing, changing thing.
You and your partner are two unique people.
No matter how close you are, you will always be different. And no matter how long you are together, you will keep changing and growing.
A healthy relationship adapts to this through healthy confrontation. When we talk honestly about the points of friction in a relationship, we can review and adjust boundaries, deal with changing situation, and release the pressure & friction that are a part of growth.
In every practical way, your relationship is just as alive as you are -because it is a direct reflection of you and your partner.
Every healthy living person experiences challenge in life, and must release it through emotion. In the same way, every healthy living relationship experiences challenge too, and must release it through good communication and healthy confrontation.
Help your partner become their best
... for their benefit, as well as yours
This is an important part of your role, in a every relationship. Whether you're a friend, lover, or life partner, your role is not just giving time, attention and material things - it's about giving healthy perspective too.
One of the best gifts you can give your partner is a better life - a better version of themselves ... one that lasts even beyond your relationship.
Let's be honest. For most of us, our sense of self-perspective sucks. We're really not that good at seeing ourselves in an accurate & unbiased way.
We honestly don't know what we're really good at, or what we're not doing so well. It's not obvious where we can improve the most quickly. We don't even notice where we're obsessively focused, at an unhealthy level.
In a relationship you and your partner have the benefit of that perspective.
Just like a gym coach, you can see many of your partner's strengths & weaknesses. You can help them identify challenges & opportunities for growth much more clearly than they can do for themselves
- Help your partner notice things they may not see ( or be subconsciously avoiding ). This could be something little - like procrastinating on something, or gaining or losing a bit of weight. Or it could be as big as a medical issue, or addiction problem.
- Encourage & challenge your partner to grow, continually.
- Call out bullshit. Bullshit is, literally, ideas formed without regard to evidence. Is your partner sometimes negative towards themselves? You can help with that.
A friend of mine in Chicago liked to brush his teeth vigorously, three times a day. His wife used to tease him about it, until she actually became worried that he was over-obsessing a bit.
"Why not ask the dentist?" she asked. So he did, just to prove her wrong.
The dentist's verdict? "You're brushing your teeth too much, and too hard... you're literally wearing away the enamel."
Sometimes we are blind to the most obvious things about ourselves... and two minds is better than one. Be that for your partner, and let your partner be that for you.
The Iron Cowboy
One of my favorite stories that illustrates healthy confrontation in action...
Guinness World Record-setting triathlete James Lawrence (aka "The Iron Cowboy") has accomplished feats many once called impossible.
His ability to push his body past the point of physical limitations helped him complete 50 Ironman triathlons in 50 days.
In the video clip here James talks about the start of his journey, which began with a confrontation by his wife.
What is a relationship anyway?
Most of us think about a relationship as having 3 parts -
- Me. Who I am as an individual, separate from my partner.
- Them. Who my partner is as an individual, separate from me.
- Us. The Relationship. The part where we overlap and create a world together.
And we treat the relationship, this space between us and our partner, as a thing in its own right.
We protect the relationship, nurture the relationship, worry about the relationship.
But here's the thing...
If either of you were to disappear, or walk away, would there still be a relationship?
Or...if one of you got amnesia, and suffered severe memory loss, would there still be a relationship?
That's because the relationship is not something separate from the two of you... it IS the two of you. A relationship is simply an agreement between two people, that they wish to be connected in some way.
There cannot be a relationship without two people - because the people ARE the relationship.
You and your partner ARE the relationship
This is important to understand, and it changes everything.
It means that you and your partner must be healthy and happy in order for your relationship to be healthy and happy.
You cannot take unhealthy, unhappy people, and create a healthy, happy relationship.
Why Confrontations are Essential for a Healthy Relationship
"But if I'm honest, it could hurt their feelings!"
Yep. I understand, and you're not alone in this fear. They might become angry. Or, they might lash back, pointing out your own imperfections.
Heck... they might even leave you.
Here's why you must be courageous and be respectfully honest anyway.
Doing nothing is not free
Waiting makes it worse.
This little weed of frustration you're nurturing is growing fast, and soon it will be full-on resentment.
Right now, at this very moment, your relationship is suffering, because there is something that bothers you. You imagine that you can hide it, bury it, ignore it... but make no mistake, this dirty little secret is hurting you - and therefore hurting your relationship as well. It affects how you see your partner, it affects how close you want to get to them.
If your relationship is strained now, where will you be in 1 year. 5 years? How much worse will your frustration be, and how much deeper will that problem be?
Your problem probably won't go away on its own
Let's take the example of your partner doing something unhealthy- overeating, smoking, drinking, gambling as an example.
You might imagine "hey they will realize it themselves, and sort this out on their own." But are you willing to take that chance?
How much more damage will another 5 years of this do to them, and to you?
Being quiet will not make things better, for either of you.
You are responsible to your partner, to make them aware of unhealthy behaviors
If your partner had a nasty cut on their back, but they hadn't noticed it yet- would you say anything?
I am assuming that the answer is a resounding yes.
Emotions and thoughts are just as important to your health as your physical body is.
Often we treat emotions and thoughts differently- as more personal & private things that we should simply ignore in other people - unless we're asked for help.
Or, we are afraid to challenge them, because we can't relate.
I encourage you to challenge these beliefs - you'll find that your relationship grows both stronger and happier.
Confronting your partner is not the same thing as hurting them - even when it stings a bit
Any good doctor can tell you that to heal someone, sometimes you have to go through a bit of pain.
Imagine a doctor that was totally unwilling to cause any pain at all- how many patients would die because he's unwilling to give them a vaccine shot?
Tough Love is sometimes the most important kind of love.
Guidelines for a healthy confrontation
Use Honesty and Respect, as fully as possible, and you will be OK. You're aiming for the green square.
A few key things you can do...
Ask permission. Let your partner know you would like to talk about something that's important to you, but that you worry they may find it uncomfortable. This allows them to prepare themselves.
Be subjective. In truth, all you can know about your world is your own perceptions of it. "I feel," and "I think," are truths. When you drawing attention to a problem, it's helpful to express the problem based on
Avoid judgement. Your partner's "problem" is not bad, it just IS. Comfortable v. uncomfortable, and Helpful v. unhelpful are much more accurate than good v. bad.
Avoid identifying them with the problem. Rather than "You're Fat.", consider describing the problem separately. "Hey I think you've gained some weight, have you checked a scale lately?" Quite literally, they may not even know.
Avoid "blaming" your partner. It's not helpful, and what they need now is support and encouragement.
Avoid negative emotion, anger, resentment, disgust. Again, these are unhelpful - and If these are rising for you, you've waited way too long, which is your own fault. Take a breath.
Be prepared for emotional backlash. No matter how well you pull of Honesty with Respect, your partner may feel sensitive or self-judgmental about the topic of discussion. If they experience a strong emotional reaction, they're likely to identify you as the cause. That's OK, and it's why being gentle is helpful.
Making Confrontation more Gentle
It's not that difficult to be Honest and Respectful at the same time. However some of us are not great with words, and struggle to figure out how to say what we're thinking both completely and gently.
Instead of worrying about the poetry, try starting simple - approach the confrontation in phases.
At all levels, you are seeking to be assertive, but not aggressive.
STEP 1 - Make them Aware of the Problem
The first time you talk about it, all you're doing is calling their attention to it. Hey, it looks like you've gained a little bit of weight. Are you eating differently?
STEP 2 - Remind them, and Encourage them to Plan
Direct their attention towards solving the problem.
STEP 3 - Get Involved, if you can
Do they need exercise? Go running with them, like the Iron Cowboy's wife did. She signed them both up for a marathon, and fully participated in the journey she was encouraging her partner on.
STEP 4 - Set Boundaries
Here, you're establishing firm expectation about what you need from them. This is the make-it-or-break-it point, and it's where you have to make the hard decisions together about what you really want for each other and your relationship together.
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Learn more about confrontations with the BEIRD model.
New relationships and social situations are often sources of a lot of adjustment, and benefit tremendously from regular, early confrontation.
- New job, new boss, new workmates.
- New flatmates.
- New romantic relationship.
In a romantic relationship, there are so many touch areas. Often it's a reconciliation in every area of life-
- Personal habits
- Friendship circles
- Time management
- Living together
Create a safe space for you and your partner to discuss and release steam regularly.
Difference between confrontation and conflict
Rational becomes emotional