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Relationship Jiu-Jitsu

By on Apr 06, 2017

Almost all of us have heated moments with the people we love. These heated moments come from either us or the person we love having a need that is unmet.

The tragedy is that instead of addressing the issue, far too often the needs request escalates into a fight or a verbal spat. We have an opportunity to work together with our partner and make our relationship stronger, but instead we end up creating more distance and the need goes unaddressed.

One way we can avoid this tragedy and get back to the opportunity inherent in the conversation is through relationship jiu-jitsu.

Duck Under the Anger

What typically makes an argument heated is that either we or our partner is passionate about addressing a problem, and we bring that to the conversation. The other person feels that force, which can often be an unintended accusation, and meets it with equal force.

Relationship counselor Kim Bowen, who I spoke with recently for an episode of my show, Talking Love, uses a football analogy to explain the situation.

“You get on a football field and you’ve got a really angry guy who is grabbing the facemask of the guy in front of him,” she told me. “What’s the other guy going to do? He’s going to meet that escalation. And that’s what we do in relationships.”

Instead of meeting force with force, however, we can use relationship jui-jitsu.

Jiu-jitsu is the Japanese art of using an opponent’s force against him instead of meeting force with our own force. In the case of our relationships, we can use this concept to avoid escalation and instead create an environment of sharing and working together. We can co-opt the negative force and use it for good.

“Duck under the anger,” advised Kim.

Practicing Relationship Jui-Jitsu

The way we do this is first by not getting lulled into a fight. We don’t meet force with force. We start by understanding that our partner doesn’t want to fight, they just want his or her needs met.

“We women are particularly bad about is,” said Kim. “When we want something, we turn that wish into a complaint. I wish you would come home and spend more time with me becomes ‘You never come home; you’re never here when you say you’re going to be; you work too much,’” she says.

So instead of meeting force with force, we must stand in there and duck under the anger until we hear the real reason for the negative energy. Think Jackie Chan ducking punches until he finds the right moment for a response. We keep our cool. We avoid taking the bait.

Once we discover the real issue or need, we use that oppositional force as energy for getting us closer to our partner. Instead of creating distance with our partner by meeting force with force, we use the energy to get closer.

This is done first and foremost by showing our partner that we are hearing them and their needs.

“They want to know that you care about how they feel—that you understand that they’re upset. So if you can just tie into that emotional response, that knee-jerk reaction, that whoosh, and subdue that,” Kim told me, then the anger transforms itself into gratitude and emotional connection.

The negative emotional force has been co-opted and converted into something positive, and from this you can either stop and bask in the glow of emotional connection or work together on making the needed adjustments.

Even though men often need this relationship jui-jitsu, as Kim noted, both genders can benefit from this technique because everyone has needs and gets passionate about them sometimes. Men also might relate to the combat analogy, but the heart of the matter is that most of us respond negatively when we feel attacked. We all apply force when force is applied to us. We all are guilty of this mistake.

So whether you are married or single, happy or deeply estranged from your partner, check out my interview with Kim Bowen on the topic of relationship jui-jitsu and emotional availability. And if you’re having trouble putting it into practice, give me a call and I’ll be happy to work with you and your partner on mastering this important art form.

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Peter Kowalke

Peter is founder of Kowalke Coaching. He also is founding director of the Philia Mission, a small charitable organization. Contact Peter.