There comes a point in all of our lives when we are confronted with discomfort, friction and hurt in relationships. This pain usually occurs around the people we love the most. Friends, family members or our partners. We find ourselves looking at the person we love and simply not seeing eye to eye. Some of us fear looking at ourselves; taking ownership, or trying to make amends with those that we love. Many people refer to romantic love as the pivotal moment in their lives, where they learn what a relationship with another person really entails. Therein lies the illusion that romantic love heals all. That your lover will simply accept you with all of your ‘flaws’; unquestioned and without expecting honest communication. The problem is that we expect romantic love to be different to other relationships in our lives. Why do we make exceptions for the person that we are intimate with? Do we decide to look past ‘flaws’ in order to avoid open and honest communication? Or do we look past the ‘flaws’ in order to accommodate our internal romantic narratives?
If I scan through the most significant relationships in my life, the one that has been most pivotal for me would be with my sister. She is one of the strongest, creative and loving people I know. We are a year apart in age, and have lived in three cities together; traveled the world, and have been each others’ confidants throughout our lives. My sister has walked through life with me; accepted me for who I truly am and has made me want to confront the challenges and pain that sits within me. We have been through ups and downs, felt far from one another, but we always find our way back to loving one another.
When conflict arrises in our lives, we feel uncomfortable and choose to approach the situation in different ways. Either we blame, destruct or simply walk away from an uncomfortable situation. Or we learn to understand one another and communicate. This is the only way to figure out a way forward within a relationship. Without speaking through situations and taking ownership of the challenges that lie within us, we will simply not find a way forward.
The Ancient Greeks had a love vocabulary that we can apply to modern day loving relationships. The Greek word ‘agape’ (ἀγάπη) refers to love that is of a charitable nature. This is the love that we may feel towards a loved one who has exposed their ‘flaws’ to us and inflicted hurt on us. The nature of this love allows us to have sympathy and understanding towards the person and the imperfections within them. (in the same way that we hopefully have sympathy and understanding for our own ‘flaws’ too) Agape (ἀγάπη) can carry us through many difficult situations in our life. We are all individuals with many layers, different experiences of childhood, and unique attachment styles. At the end of the day, it is about taking ownership of your ‘flaws’; asking for forgiveness, and finding a way forward in a gentle, calm way.
Throughout my relationship with my sister, I have learnt this. From the fury of teenage arguments to living in a one bedroom apartment in London, we have been through it all. She knows my imperfections and I know her’s. We have worked hard to be the sisters we are today. When friction arises, we give one another space to process. ‘I’m sorry’ comes with sincerity and a lack of blame and ‘but’s’. ‘I’m sorry but..’ is simply a way to avoid taking any ownership of the situation at hand. This can be extremely frustrating for the person on the receiving end. Sometimes looking at ourselves can be painful, and we can feel deep shame for what we have created unknowingly. Taking ownership of situations gives us a reason to want to be better communicators and find a way forward with the ones we love.
Here are some helpful questions to ask yourself if you are faced with conflict:
How was I feeling before the argument took place?
Did I say anything I regret?
Has a similar argument of this nature happened before?
Do I want to find a way forward with this person?
How much of the argument can you be responsible for? Don’t be afraid to take full ownership.
Do I feel ashamed of my behaviour?
How much does this relationship mean to me?
Would you like to apologise?
If you want to find a way to apologise with sincerity. Leave out your justifications. Simply tell your loved one where your suffering comes from and how you would like to find a way to work on it.
Agape (ἀγάπη) gives us a chance to look at ourselves and others with compassion. It is okay to not be okay all the time.