If you missed the first installment, Part 1 – Our First Truce, you can find it here.
Part 2 – Emotions
We didn’t decide who was right or wrong that night. Instead, we agreed not to be offended at anything the other person said. We agreed to just talk about our emotions instead of actually feeling them. We were both guilty in our own areas of dysfunctional relating, and were both contributing to the destruction of our marriage and the disruption of the regular living of life in our home.
We determined that it was our emotions that were stopping us from reaching any conclusions or resolutions. So what we did was put them away! Not neuter or bury them: put them away. Your emotions belong to you and you alone – they have no business in the arena of conflict resolution. Yes, you can say how you feel (or felt), but you cannot feel it.
In Bob Burg’s new book, Adversaries into Allies, I like how he says, Control Your Own Emotions. This fact is applicable to all relationships not just in business, and especially in a marriage. If there’s any hope to finding the synergy that evolves from healthy conflict resolution, you must take ownership of your own feelings. Skip Prichard did a stellar review of Bob’s book, you can find it here.
Identify your own emotions
Darrell’s main problem was anger, and mine was fear. He would react by blowing up, while I would react with crying followed by emotional distancing (shutting down). I would then brood over it and come back around to attack* on a different day with a different angle – he would blow up, I would react by crying then shutting down. I would brood over it and come back around to attack on a different day with yet a different angle… Rinse and repeat — again.
I felt he never heard me and he felt I never listened to him. We were both right! Neither of us were listening or hearing because both of us were taking the emotional cues to defend and protect the turf of our own opinions. I blamed him for making me shut down emotionally, and he blamed me for making him angry. Where there is no ownership of emotions, there will be no responsibility for behaviours.
Put your emotions in check
Here’s a random example of how it worked. There would be some kind of disagreement between us. He would say something ‘wrong’ – in anger, or too harsh, or whatever else – I was offended somehow, in some way, I was hurt or disagreed with him. <dysfunctional communication would normally be well on its way> Rather than shut down or say something emotionally charged, I would write down the situation and put it in the Truce Box – and visually close the lid (file, I kept mine on my computer).
The Truce Box sat there quietly on my computer, holding all of the emotion… so that I didn’t need to. I could carry on with my day or activity, knowing that a Truce Box Talk was coming. My feelings weren’t suppressed or forgotten emotions that were deemed inconsequential – they were just sitting safely in the truce.
As juvenile as all this sounds these steps were necessary, both of us were emotionally immature. Like I said in Part 1, we had ZERO conflict resolution skills. Normally you begin to learn these as children and they are built on as you grow up. We’d missed out on that, and we had to start somewhere. The good news is that it didn’t take long once we had a plan. And the most beautiful part was that we got to grow up emotionally, together.
When you separate the emotion from the conflict, you can look at the conflict with different eyes and a different heart.
- Your protective defenses come down and you can hear the other person and their perspective.
- With emotion out of the way, your vision is clearer which opens your heart.
- The conflict becomes almost tangible, and you can touch it with your hands, like with a puzzle, you can accurately see all the pieces – where they fit and don’t fit.
Your marriage is a huge puzzle and you have to build it with your spouse. You each bring different pieces to complete the picture, and you have to learn to work together so that you can finish it. Let’s say you are both working on the bottom part of the puzzle and there develops a conflict about which puzzle piece should be placed in a particular place. The Truce Box enabled us to still work on other areas of our puzzle, then come back to the difficult spot at a later date.
*I say the word attack because it was my intention to continue the ‘discussion’ in order to change his mind, or get him to see my way.
In Part 3 – The Truce Box Talk, Freedom, strength and acceptance are found in the truce.