“I see you Jake Sully”, my husband said.
I burst into laughter.
We were working through our second date from Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. The topic was Agree to Disagree: Addressing Conflict.
His response was perfect. Jake Sully was the protagonist in the movie Avatar. In the movie, the Na’Vi tribe greets one another by saying “I see you”. In a spiritual sense it means ‘I see who you are and I understand you’.
Mutual understanding, according to John Gottman, is the healthiest and most productive goal of all conflict discussions.
It was Sean’s turn to plan the date. Per the book it suggests that the couple find a park, beach or restaurant to talk privately. He opted for the at-home date suggestion of walking around the neighborhood since we have had a hectic social calendar the last few weeks.
We put on our sneakers, which cued our dogs it was time to walk. When we stepped outside it was 52 degrees and a bit drizzly. I let out a sigh of disgust.
Since we are talking about conflict I need to say, cold and I are bitter rivals and we broke up a long time ago. Despite my chilly Pennsylvania roots, this Texas girl had to put the kibosh on that plan.
After the frustrated dogs settled down, we made a pot of tea and sat in the same location as Date #1. This time Sean answered the questions first.
The issue we chose to talk about was differences in expressing anger. I have always been comfortable letting off steam, whereas Sean viewed anger as a dangerous emotion.
Having been together 25 years, processing many fights and going to couples therapy, this wasn’t our first rodeo with discussing our differences in expressing anger. But the truth is, each time we have talked about it a new layer was uncovered.
This time was no different.
I knew the story of a defining moment with anger in his life. It left him with a sense that anger is a dangerous emotion that causes a permanent strain on relationships.
What I didn’t know until I asked the questions in the book was how I could best support him when he is angry and how he likes to make up.
THIS WAS HUGE!
Knowing how to repair is the ultimate skill in marriage. Arguments are inevitable and actually healthy when processed at a deeper level. By listening and being gentle with our partners we create a safe environment for deeper meanings to be revealed.
Having this discussion as a scheduled date conversation rather than processing a fresh fight helped us to get to this new layer. The best time to talk about conflict is not while you are in the middle of a conflict. It allows for some time and distance to explore more deeply, rather just knee-jerk reactions.
When it was my turn to answer questions, I talked about how my Italian family was very expressive with anger, but they made repairs with humor or food. Both worked equally well.
Despite their fighting, nothing bad ever happened like it did with Sean. Their fighting was unpleasant and loud, but our home and their relationship were stable. My parents fought, let off steam, made up and life went on.
As I shared my story, he listened intently and I could see the wheels turning.
“I see you Jake Sully”, he said.
I burst into laughter. “I see you too Jake Sully”.
He poured another cup of tea and we shared a piece of Italian cream cake. It was very comforting to know that he is learning the power of humor and food.