THE BLOG
01/30/2014 03:09 pm ET | Updated Apr 01, 2014

What Happened to Our Primary Agreements?

We often have several "primary agreements" in our intimate relationships. We agree to take care of each other, as well as to be nice, to protect and not to hurt each other. "I've got your back! I wont hurt you, and I wont let any one else hurt you! You're safe with me!"

Then something happens. We start attacking each other saying and doing the things we said we would never say or do. What happened? What happened to those primary agreements?

If you say or do something and I experience an "ouch" on any level, then our primary agreement is out the window. You said you wouldn't hurt me and yet you did, so I'm hurting you back. Not only that, I'm going to hurt you twice as bad, just to make my point! This is called revenge. Now you have an "ouch" and you join me with your counter attack. Anything you have been holding back comes out of your mouth with volume and venom. I receive your intensity and return my rebuttal with even more hurtful intensity, and on and on we go. At some point, we're both exhausted and we make up and apologize for all the stupid things we said or did. Ugh!

I'm sure you have seen and/or experienced this scenario many times. So, what's really going on here and can we avoid these hurtful episodes in our intimate relationships?

If we examine this scenario closely we discover an interesting pattern. If we look at the original "ouch," we see that the person receiving the "ouch" forgot a few things and they ran through some assumptions. They forgot that their partner is on their side. They forgot that their partner is there for them, that their partner loves them and wants to protect them from harm. They assumed that the "ouch" was intentional, and that it was done against them on purpose.

It's at this point, the point of the original "ouch," that I ask partners to do a "perception check." A "perception check" sounds like this: "Did you intend to hurt me?" "Was it your intention to "be little" me or insult me?" "Were you trying to put me down or make me feel stupid?"

When asked these questions, the answer almost always is, "No! I love you. I'm not trying to hurt you or shame you in any way."

To be clear, this is at the first "ouch." If I feel you have hurt me, and you ask if I intended to hurt you, my answer will be, "Yes! You hurt me, so I'm hurting you back!"

It's at the first "ouch" where the "perception check" works, after that we quickly move into the process of revenge.

So, the next time you feel an "ouch" from your intimate partner, stop and pause for a moment to ask them what their intention was. If they say they were trying to help you, believe their words. You might need to set a boundary here or tell them a more effective way of helping you. That can be fun and it can create a more intimate and loving relationship. That's more joyful than fighting.