I was coaching a client about the way she and her husband argue. “He gets upset when things are not put away. I could tell him he’s overreacting, but it won’t help. I’d be justified in taking the high road, but it doesn’t get me anywhere.”
This is a familiar scenario. We know we are right, but sometimes a disagreement is often not really about the disagreement. My client understood this and considered what was a better use of her energy. “What if you just listened to why he was upset and showed him you were listening?” I offered. “He is feeling a strong feeling. Remember the three troublesome emotions are anger, sadness, or fear. What if you listened to what he said, not for the content but rather with your heart to see what is going on with him?”
My client, being the brilliant woman that she is, said “he’s probably feeling scared that I don’t care how he likes things to be. I can see it’s not about anything I did wrong, it’s just that he needs things to be calmer, so he’ll feel safe.”
When we are compassionate for the person we are battling, the fight becomes irrelevant. In this case, she no longer felt defensive and now responds with compassion. I have no idea whether things are any more orderly than they were in their kitchen, but emotionally things are much more peaceful. Hopefully they are both enjoying that.