I love you. I love you too. So what the hell is your problem?

Sound familiar?

Doesn't logic suggest that if you really love someone and they really love you, that you both should be able to get along well? I wish that were true. I wish the magic that we hope for in our songs and in our stories was enough to stop us from yelling at each other time and time again. 

How does this happen?

How do two people who love each other desperately fight themselves out of a marriage? There's so much mystery in the answer to this question so I'm not going to be arrogant enough to suggest that I can answer it completely. But, I know at least one reason is at some point during the endless arguments, we lose our ability to see our place in the problem. There are innumerable paths to conflict. I want to focus on one path in this blog: the righteous judge and the justified defendant. 

1. The Righteous Judge

The righteous judge emerges in people who have a strong sense of justice, however the only thing your partner or spouse feels when you take up your gavel and robe is condemnation. They fail to see the intense fear of the loss of the relationship, which is really where the judge lives. The judge's logic is, "if I can point out what you've done wrong, then I can resolve the issue of the problem in this relationship and we can be safe again." What is difficult for judges is that they fail  see how their very attempts to point out their partner's criminal behavior maintains those very behaviors.

2. The Justified Defendant 

Where there's a judge, there's a defendant. Where judges are afraid of losing the relationship, defendants are often afraid of losing themselves in the relationship. This makes for a nasty drama where the stronger the defendant's case, the more the judge is afraid that she will lose the defendant - which causes the her to condemn him even more. The more she condemns, the more he defends, and both feel completely justified in their roles. But here's the kicker: neither position usually usually leads to the best solutions to conflict. 

If you'd love me, you'd stop telling me that it is all my fault.

If you love me, you'd change.

The important thing about these two positions is that they both stem from fear and desire. Both express a desire to change the relationship. Both express a fear about what might happen if the relationship fails. Sometimes their fear is a little different. One is anxious about the potential loss of the relationship; another is afraid about being lost in the relationship. It is hard to step out of the judge's seat because it feels safe and powerful up there. It is hard to fire your legal team because you feel attacked. 

One of the first steps to create change is for both the judge and defendant to affirm each other's attempts to create a healthy relationship.

This starts with curiosity, which kills fear. Ask yourself, "Why is she wearing those robes? Why is she holding that gavel? What role do I have in her righteous indignation?" "Why does he feel like he has to defend himself? What do his defenses say about his fear? What role do I have in keeping him on his heels?"

Beyond that, the ways that couples move forward in a healthy way always amazes me, limited only by creativity. Remember, as long as you're fighting, there is passion and energy in the relationship. If fear dominates your conflict, then I wonder how your curiosity might soothe that fear.

Its amazing how just a little curiosity can change a question and how the answer to that question can change a relationship.

I love you. I love you too. So what the hell is happening here?

Dr. Mathis Kennington