Relationship Battles: Lay Down Your Sword and Shield

Have you ever noticed how often we use military references in describing human interactions?

Think about it: lower your shields, pick your battles, call a truce, stick to your guns, lose the battle but win the war, take the first shot, send in the reinforcements, negotiate world peace (if you’ve ever spent time with 2 or more kids, you know about this), détentes. And this is all before we even get to the battle of the sexes!

Sometimes, the impact is for the greater good: beating cancer, the war on drugs, keeping the peace, fighting for what we want.

Either way, there is immense power in the language we use – as parents and as partners.

With military analogies, relationships can’t win for losing — the metaphors create a zero sum gain.  Rather than victory, we lock ourselves in an unending battle.

So, consider this: do you really want to be ‘doing battle’– with your teenager or your 10-year-old, your spouse or your parent, your supervisor or your employee?

Imagine the impact of shifting your perspective from one that is adversarial, to one that is more cooperative. When we start to consider the needs and wishes of the people we love, and get out of our own way in putting up roadblocks, it is amazing how relationships can flourish.

Here’s a little story to explain what I mean. A while ago, my husband and I were in an out-of-sync phase. It wasn’t intentional, but both of us had started to get defensive. Maybe he started first and I responded — or maybe it was the other way around. It doesn’t really matter. Conversation had become limited to logistics and details. Our shields were up, and our connection to each other was down.

I was aware of the distance between us, but, like hiding behind a barricade of sand bags in a flood, it had felt safer to seek higher ground.

This probably sounds familiar to you. Many of our relationships live in a chronic state of defense. It’s like we get locked in a crisply-starched uniform, from military boots to epaulettes, and we don’t know how to stand “at ease.”

My spouse must have recognized the state we were in as well because he began reaching out, looking for our common ground. He talked more, broadening the conversation. He smiled more. He was trying.

Since my shields were well-established, it took some time for me to lay down my sword and stop taking things personally. He waited. He didn’t ‘re-arm’ himself while I was trying to lower my defenses; rather, he met me with flowers and a box of chocolates. Finally, shields down, connection up. We were able to move forward.

Simply put, changing how we approach our relationships, from combatants to allies, leads to more positive outcomes. And someone has to start by raising the white flag.

It’s time to pull our important relationships out of the barracks and put them back into the kitchen, or the office, or the classroom where they belong. How? Well, it’s up to you. I suggest you start with an olive branch and see where it takes you. But be patient. It takes two to tango, and sometimes it may take a loved one a little while to step out of the battle and into the dance.

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