Recently a friend of mine - let's call her Barbara because that is her real name - got into an argument with her partner as he was leaving for work. At one point her partner said there wouldn't be any problems in the relationship if Barbara didn't start them; she was the source of all of their problems.
Now normally Barbara would become inflamed and then race up her ladder of inference and stand at the top of that ladder like King Kong, grasping a very small woman dressed in tatters (though in this case it would be a medium-sized man in business attire). But she's been reading this book called "Working with the Law: 11 Truth Principles for Successful Living" by Raymond Holliwell. And while there are many things that caught her eye in this book the one that got activated at that very moment is the Law of Least Resistance: when you encounter an obstacle, flow around it.
So, when Barbara heard she was the source of all of their problems, instead of engaging and defending (e.g. I am NOT! You cause problems too, you know!) she said: "if that really is true for you, then: 1. this sounds like a terrible relationship for you, being with someone who causes problems that you can do nothing about, and, 2. you must be Jesus Christ."
Granted, her emotions may have gotten the better of her with that second point. BUT, what's great about her response is that the two of them didn't fall into their usual pattern - they didn't escalate. And, after a brief (surprised) silence her partner said, "I have to go to work." Barbara pictured him strapping on a cross as he headed out the door, but instead he just got in the car and backed down the driveway like always.
Her partner gone, Barbara replayed the conversation over (and over) (and over). She started lining up clever come-backs like: "I'm not the source of all of our problems, YOU are." Then she started thinking about how he never takes responsibility for his role in disagreements. Furthermore, she thought, his therapist doesn't seem to be helping him with this... his therapist probably doesn't take responsibility either... probably blames everything on his partner... how convenient. I know Barbara, and this went on for longer than she'd want to own up to.
While putting the finger puppets away, it occurred to Barbara that it didn't matter if her partner thought that she was the source of all of their problems because it's untrue, mainly because it's impossible; in any relationship both people contribute. So why did it get traction? Turns out that while she knows it's technically impossible that she causes all of their problems, often she feels like such a big mess that she wonders if they wouldn't have so many issues if she just got herself together. On some level she believed it. It's then she realized she needed to change how she feels about herself and how she presents herself in relationships.
So how does Barbara present herself in relationships? She is willing to talk about her issues and her process. Great! Sort of. But it's lop-sided: it looks like only Barbara has issues. And with all the focus on her and her issues, there's no opportunity for her partner to look at his issues (not that he minds this). Plus, he can feel good about supporting her in working through her issues. Great! And a problem. It shows each person as only half of what s/he is: Barbara is not all issues and problems and her partner is not all rainbows and puppies - each is a mix of both.
This was a turning point for Barbara - a new way of looking at herself, her partner, and her relationship. And she took comfort knowing that new beliefs make way for new behaviours.
Barbara's a close friend; so close, in fact, that some people have said it's almost as though we're the same person. So I've decided I'd like to take a page out of Barbara's book and see myself more clearly too.