Practice "Us Versus the Problem," Not "You Versus Me"
When I see my therapist every other Wednesday, I can’t help but worry I'm annoying her. I know it's just my own insecurity talking—she’s quite patient with me, and I tend to project my worries onto others. My concern, really, is that she’ll get tired of how much I talk about my relationship challenges, especially when we’ve already talked about them ad nauseam.
Navigating relationship dilemmas is tricky. Finding a compromise can be harder than it sounds, especially when you and your partner have convinced yourselves you’re “right.” And what do you do when your partner unintentionally triggers you, responds in an unloving way, or can't understand your point of view?
Over the years, my therapist and I have discussed several solutions. We’ve talked about practicing self-care, setting boundaries, and communicating needs through “I statements,” which sound like “I feel ____ when ____ because ____. Can you ____ instead?” Those tips work, but they never completely alleviated my struggle.
My Therapist's Suggestion
My therapist recently introduced a viewpoint that stuck with me. She said, “remember to see the conflict as ‘us versus the problem,’ not ‘you versus me.’” It seems so obvious in hindsight but transformed how I approached relationship problems.
When I argue with a loved one, what I’m upset about is the issue at hand. The point of contention, the misunderstanding, the trigger, the hurtful words—all of which are outside of us as individuals. I know I love the other person, and I don’t want to fight with them. This shows that the problem is the problem, not the other person.
Even though I know my therapist's words to be true, I still struggle to remember them. When I feel hurt or annoyed at someone, it’s easy for me to see myself as “right” and the other person as “wrong.” It’s easy to associate the cause of the dispute with my loved one. It’s easy to believe I just need the other person to change their ways.
I’m still working on keeping my therapist's words in mind when I have relationship disputes. Completely changing your mindset and perspective takes time, so I hope to give myself grace.
I noticed a difference in my emotions the few times I remembered this truth. I felt less angry, less attacked, and less judged. I felt more loved, more comfortable, and more ready to find an actual solution rather than a temporary bandage. And while I can’t say for a fact the other person feels the same, I have a feeling they do. We both know we're focusing our upset feelings on the disagreement. This takes a lot of weight off our shoulders.
I encourage you to do the same in your relationship conflicts. Try to see the conflict as the problem, not the other person. Once you do this, you’ll see your relationship in a better light.