Peace as a Choice for Your Relationship

I agree with Michelle Weiner-Davis (author of “Divorce Busting” and many other relationship books) that telling everything in a relationship in the name of honesty does not work well. Sometimes choosing to keep the peace or to let something go is a good idea. This is related to John Gottman’s research which says that there needs to be a 5 to 1 ratio of positive interactions to negative in a healthy relationship. If your mindset (particularly in these dark months of winter) is more negative, making the choice to keep back some of that negativity is a good thing. We tend to focus on the negative when our lives are out of balance. For instance, the brain processes positive and negative differently. Positive things are processed through the hippocampus while negative things are processed through the amygdala. When we are sleep deprived (an astounding number of North American’s are sleep deprived) the hippocampus is directly affected. Therefore, the brain recalls more of the negative in our lives. So there are lots of reasons including the dark winter months that have us accessing the negative in our relationships.

When I am suggesting that you don’t share everything that you are thinking, I don’t mean that you will stop sharing your thoughts or yourself with each other but that you will keep things in balance. I am also not saying that you will perseverate on the negative and just keep simmering quietly about the issue. This really defeats the whole purpose. You might consider focussing on the positive in your relationship because where you focus WILL get amplified. You might consider turning your eyes on yourself, instead of your partner and look at the kind of partner you aspire to be. This may be helpful in “letting go” of the issue. A relationship is a living thing and needs to experience happiness. It is a journey and you will have other opportunities to make the same complaint. Balance is the key.

So where might you find some difficulties with doing this? For some couples who have challenges with emotional management skills, this idea is difficult to carry out. When they feel emotion, they also feel compelled to share the reasons for the intensity of their emotions. I have experienced some couples, who despite the consequences and repeated promises to manage their emotions before dumping them into the couple relationship, continue to do so, to the point the relationship breaks down permanently. If you find yourself in this category, and you have been consistently acting this out in your relationship, find a way that works for you to manage your emotions. If you consider that you have tried and tried to manage your emotions, consulting with a therapist to work through a change is a good idea.

Another helpful strategy is becoming aware of your vulnerabilities from the past that tend to make the present more intense. For instance, if your early childhood included circumstances where you were not listened to, this can spill into your relationship today. So when your partner is not fully focussed on you, you may experience today’s challenge with your partner in light of your early experience as well and feel more intensely negative then if you did not have that early experience. Being able to understand your vulnerabilities and being able to self soothe will be helpful when you are aiming to have some peace in your relationship. There will certainly be other opportunities to share your wish for your partner to change in this regard. Balance would mean that you will consider waiting for another opportunity, not that you will bury it and simmer. For those of you that regularly avoid confrontation, knowing your vulnerabilities will mean that you will balance by promising yourself a specific day that you will bring up your thoughts and desires regarding the relationship, negative or positive. When that day comes, you will follow through.

What are the benefits of “keeping the peace”? There are so many. Crowding out the negative leaves room for joy and playfulness. Connection and bonding together becomes so much easier when there is peace between you. Making positive memories becomes easier. Meeting each others needs becomes easier. Your attachment feels more secure. And all of these benefits translate into wonderful biological benefits as well. It is worth it to grow into this behaviour. Go forth and be wonderful in your relationship today!