Getting to "I'm OK, you're OK" in intimate partner conflict

It's a simple premise - if I can hold in mind that fundamentally you ARE OK, even if I wholeheartedly disagree with the position you've taken on an issue, we should be able to arrive at a point of mutual understanding, if not consensus.

The opposite should also hold true - if I can hold in mind that basically I AM OK, even if you vehemently oppose the position I have adopted about the issue we are in conflict about, then we should be capable of at least 'agreeing to disagree' in a respectful way.

It can be quite startling to discover that we are perceiving either ourselves or our partner as 'not OK'.

The implications of slipping into an 'I'm not OK' position might be:-

  • I give away my position on an issue too readily, thinking "S/He must be right, I'm better off not listening to myself here"
  • I don't raise an issue of concern to me, because I think "It's not OK that I have this issue - there's something wrong with me"

For my partner - S/He then may not even realize that I have an issue, let alone what it is about. Alternatively, they may assume that I am comfortable with their position, then feel ambushed when seemingly out of nowhere, I explode with frustration (or worse).

The implications of slipping into a "You're not OK" position might be:-

  • I stick stubbornly to my position on an issue, and find that I'm unable to really hear what my partner has to say, that may allow me to soften my stance a little, or to generate solutions that accommodate both perspectives.
  • I raise my issue of concern repeatedly, even though I'm sure that it's unresolvable, because I'm not able to hold a position of respectfully agreeing to differ.

For my partner - S/He may feel that I am not open to her/his influence, and start to have less investment in doing the work of healthy relating - that is, to work constructively through conflict. S/He may even feel attacked or bullied if I constantly bring up an issue that s/he thinks cannot be usefully talked through any further without causing emotional harm to our relationship.

At the extreme, an "I'm not OK and you're not OK" dynamic can start to permeate interactions. If this is the case for you, take a moment to remember what you loved about your partner at the beginning, and what they loved about you - what was MORE than OK about each of you, at least in each other's eyes. If you can, talk about this together. It just might be that you can then resurrect some respect for yourself and each other, and revisit some of your areas of conflict.


Till next post, Vivienne

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