On Easter, last year my husband Bernard and I had a horrible fight. I know, of all holidays on which to have a blow-up fight Easter seems like an odd choice but it cannot always be helped when such escalations occur. Communication is a huge part of what makes our relationship work, and we discussed intently the changes we needed to make and how we would go about making them. I even wrote our plan of action down in the notes app on my phone and titled it, “Easter Treaty 2017” – I take these things seriously, can you tell? I felt inspired by our discussion and choose to write a piece about it titled, No Nuclear Weapons. Since Easter is occurring this weekend, I decided to write a follow-up piece on Bernard and I’s progress throughout this past year.
Before I discuss where we stand today on our No Nuclear Weapons rule we enacted, I feel it is pertinent to give some background on Bernard and I’s relationship. When Bernard and I started dating almost eleven years ago, we learned quickly that we approached conflict extremely differently. I came from a household where my parents fought loudly and proudly whereas Bernard grew up never hearing his parents argue. Since we often approach conflict the same way as our parents, the first time we ever argued I came into it guns blazing and Bernard having never witnessed anything like that before recoiled. Over the last eleven years, we have had to learn to approach conflict in new ways. Bernard needed to learn to communicate his feelings and thoughts more freely, and avoid conflict less; whereas, I needed to learn to express my feelings and thoughts in a more calm, cool, and collected manner. Both of us have been successful, although I will admit I still struggle from time to time with my end of it.
There is another point I would like to explain about Bernard and me, even though we share a lot of the same underlying beliefs and values we consistently never agree on anything outright. Bernard being logical usually approaches every single topic from the perspective of what makes the most sense. I, on the other hand, am much more emotional and approach every single topic considering the human element. Therefore, most people who spend any amount of time with Bernard and I will witness us doing what we call, “Sparring” or “Debating.” These interactions are fun and challenging for Bernard and me; we try to make our point and get the other to either concede or expand themselves enough to understand the other’s perspective. While we might enjoy these interactions, others seem uncomfortable with them as they can appear intense. I feel it necessary to outline the distinction between our conflicts because while there have been significant changes in our relationship since our No Nuclear Weapons rule, the sparring we do will never stop because we enjoy intellectual debating too much.
Bernard and I reflected on this past year since the Easter Treaty of 2017, and we both were delighted to recognize the significant strides we have made. While it was rough in the beginning, identifying our triggers, calling each out when things were beginning to escalate and using the codeword Nuclear then taking a break, we were able to implement these changes effectively. We also noticed that within five months of our Easter blow out, we stopped needing to use the codeword entirely because we could de-escalate conflict before it reached the point that we would need to use it.
Bernard and I increased our calling out efforts too. When one of us responds in an aggressive or snarky way, the other will typically call it out and say, “Apologize” which the one being called out will quickly oblige. Doing this, helps us recognize when we have taken a tone or reacted poorly, or if we have crossed the line in some way. Apologizing outright helps us to nip in the bud hurt feelings, escalating tensions and allows us the ability to move on more swiftly.
Recognizing triggers was always more of a me issue than a Bernard issue. Bernard has this calmness about him always, I’ve only heard him raise his voice maybe ten times over the course of our eleven-year relationship. I am a different story entirely. Therefore, this past year I worked on becoming more mindful of my emotions. If I feel myself getting triggered, I pause, take deep breaths, or step away for a moment. I also recognize that there are some days when I am just in a mood where everything Bernard does seems to annoy me. In those situations rather than letting my mood take over, and I find myself picking a fight for no reason I merely say to Bernard, “I don’t know why, but you are really annoying me right now.” What usually happens after is Bernard says or does something funny to cause that mood to dissipate, and we move forward.
Why is this Important?
There are two reasons why I think these changes are significant. First, our goal in establishing the No Nuclear Weapons rule was to create healthier habits so that our poor behaviors would not be passed on to our kids. I feel proud of the strides we made and the fact that we were successful. It brings comfort to know that before we have children, we have already cultivated better habits to pass on to them. Second, it demonstrates that if you are dedicated to changing your behaviors and ways that it is possible, not just individually but as a couple.
If you and your significant other are struggling with something, communicate about it, determine a common goal of which to stride, and map your progress along the way. It is one of the best feelings in the world to look back and see the growth you’ve made both individually and as a couple.