Setting Boundaries & Letting Go of Resolution
A popular bit of advice that I hear couples quote is "Don't go to bed angry". I cringe when I hear it because I know the price they often pay for not letting go of having resolution. I hear about hours and hours of yelling, blaming and judgment. Much better to go to bed angry than to practice these things.
When you are attached to having resolution with your partner, you are not only likely to reinforce reactivity, you might also let your partner cross boundaries that you hold just fine with everyone else. You know you wouldn't hang around while a store clerk blamed you for their own upset, saying something like, "It's your fault I got so upset. You had too many groceries!"
However, when your partner says something like, "I wouldn't be so upset if you hadn't criticized me!" you are pulled in. You want to be seen. You want your partner to see how your intention was to ask for something not to criticize. You want to be connected. Naturally you make an attempt to clarify his perception. He holds tight to his idea and the volume of his voice increases. Now he is yelling at you and blaming you, crossing a boundary and not meeting your need for respect. As you continue to work for resolution in the midst of this, you inadvertently send a message that it is okay for him to yell at you. Your willingness to continue the interaction under these conditions is the same as saying, "I am willing to give up my need for respect in order to be close to you." This is a recipe for violence.
When reactive patterns like this have been established over a long period of time in a relationship, letting go of immediate resolution is a critical part of the change process. Your ability to tolerate the discomfort of being disconnected from your partner allows you to set boundaries around behaviors that do not meet your need for respect. It also allows you to interrupt reactive patterns rather than practice them. There are three keys to strengthening your ability to tolerate disconnect and let go of resolution. They are:
1. Trust in your own skills of self-empathy, self-soothing, and finding support from friends and family.
2. Clarity about the cost of staying in an interaction when your boundaries have been crossed.
3. Being able to set a boundary in a simple and connected way. For example, in the example above, the person being "yelled at" might say, "I need respect and so I won't continue this interaction with your voice at that volume." Or "This way of interacting doesn't work for me. I am going to sleep on the couch. I hope we can connect in the morning." (Read more about setting boundaries with reactivity).
Take some time now to reflect on one time recently when you set a clear boundary in an interaction and one time when your attachment to resolution led to boundaries being crossed. Where do the three keys listed above fit into both situations?