Brain science supports anecdotal evidence that compassion is infinitely more effective in de-escalating conflict and nurturing intimacy than are cool logic and rational argument. The following tactics are generally less than successful in trying to get the understanding and caring we need from our partner:
- trying to prove him/her wrong;
- trying to convince our partner that his/her feelings or criticisms are unwarranted;
- trying to influence the other’s behavior;
- using rationality to outmuscle emotional states.
Master therapist and teacher Brent Atkinson, speaks to this in his book Emotional Intelligence in Couples Therapy: Advances from Neurobiology and the Science of Intimate Relationships (Norton, 2005). He points out that the most important lesson that the brain sciences have given us is that our moods and attitudes play a more powerful role in influencing our partners than the persuasiveness of our arguments.
He asks us to pause and ask ourselves the following questions when we feel frustrated that our partner is not responding in the way we want or believe s/he should?
- Is it possible your partner didn’t understand exactly what you wanted?
- Might your partner be stressed about other things, or have a lot on his mind?
- Is this issue more important to your partner than you realize?
- Is it possible that your partner doesn’t have all the facts you have?
- Are you reading between the lines things that your partner doesn’t intend to be saying?
- Are your partner’s actions driven by a deeper need that’s legitimate and important to him?
- Is your partner afraid he’s going to lose something crucial if he does things the way you want?
- Would your partner be as angry as you are if the roles were reversed?
- Is it possible that this situation is about legitimately different needs or expectations?