While it’s true that my husband and I have a lot in common, we also have tons of differences.
I need to have a clean desk. My drawers are organized the Marie Kondo way. On the rare occasion I cook, I put away each ingredient after I use it. Clear and neat spaces contribute to my peace of mind, ability to focus and think clearly. If you’ve been to my office, you know everything out has a purpose and nothing is out of place.
My husband Matthew, on the other hand, isn’t affected by the collection of paper clips, old cards, receipts, legal documents or the variety of pens scattered around his desk. There’s a diverse universe of things in his drawers! And when he cooks, which is very frequently - lucky me! - you can tell he’s used dozens of ingredients and spices you never thought would go together because they are all there uncapped on the counter.
This might seem frivolous to you. You may be asking, Alejandra, why on earth are you writing about how you and your husband keep your living space?
Because how you keep your living space is one of the top reasons couples fight about. Relationship experts such as Dr. Gottman or Dr. Hendrix have reached this conclusion. I too, see it often in my work with couples.
Despite our differences, our pitta tendencies, the fact that we were raised in different countries, and that my husband’s a lawyer – i.e. he learned how to argue professionally, we don’t argue.
And I want to share with you how I learned to stop arguing with my husband.
I don’t want to give you the impression that we don’t fight because we have a meditation or yoga practice. We used to fight during our first years of marriage despite the fact that we had both had years of yoga and meditation.
Also, don’t think that we don’t have challenges. Our lives are very full and complex. We’ve had and continue to have difficulties that need our attention.
What prevents me from starting a fight or an argument is connecting with the reality of impermanence. Let me explain.
At the end of the summer, I had the opportunity to volunteer at a grief retreat. All participants had lost someone significant in their lives. Many participants’ stories pierced my heart.
Yet, there was one story that solidified my understanding that fighting with your beloved on a regular basis adds unnecessary challenge to an intimate relationship.
A participant found her partner lying on the living-room floor when she got back from a quick run to the grocery store. While she was out, He climbed a ladder to change a light bulb, fell and died immediately.
In each participant’s story, I heard the regret of no longer being able to talk to this person who passed. The person was gone and with them the opportunity to connect and share something meaningful.
When I was a teenager, a close friend’s sister died on a bicycle accident 5 minutes after leaving their house. The last human interaction she had was a fight with my friend. My friend replayed this fight in her head for years. She cried at least a million tears about this last conversation with her sister.
Death As A Communication Teacher
So, what I realized is that the most effective communication step I can take to stop any fight with my beloved is to embrace death as my teacher.
The truth is that I don’t know when one of us will die. I just know that we will.
Understanding that we are impermanent gives me the possibility to choose how to communicate with my beloved.
And because communication starts within first, I found that the most effective way of stopping a potential fight is to ask myself one of these two questions:
Would I care about this if he died immediately?
Again, and again, the answer has been “NO”. I wouldn’t care about a sock out of place, a dishwasher not loaded to my liking, or uncapped spice jars on the counter. In fact, I would terribly miss them with all my heart. Being able to see these things as a reflection of my beloved’s aliveness, elicits a sense of gratitude and love.
If one of us were to die today, is this the last conversation I want to have?
Once again, my answer has been “NO”. This allows me to make a choice rather than respond reactively. When I make a choice, I choose to have meaningful conversations about things that matter instead of talking and complaining about our differences. And I want my communication during these conversations to reflect that our relationship is my most important one.
This simple practice of death as a teacher has nipped fights and arguments in the bud.
Next time you feel triggered about something someone you love says or does, remember to choose to communicate about it as if you or they could die tomorrow, because even though I certainly wouldn’t wish that on anybody, that could happen.
Let me know if you use one of these two questions or how you work with death as your teacher in your communication. And if you need support communicating with your dearest ones, reach out, I’m here.
And if you’d like to receive practical transformative communication tips directly in your inbox, sign up here. I would love to contribute to you and your relationships!