One of the primary ways discussion can collapse into heated argument is when both sides cannot agree what truth is or what the past looks like. While both sides are entitled to their own points of view, agreeing that there is a truthful reality that is independent of individual perception is often important when solving differences.
If you are in relationship counseling, it might be helpful in some circumstances to set the past aside and work on outlining concrete guidelines for the future of the relationship.
While it is true that working through painful relationship fall-outs that occurred in the past might have to occur in order for the relationship to heal, that is not always the case. Sometimes the pain can be too great and even well-meaning people who truly believe they have forgiven each other, can find old grievances cropping up during intensely emotional moments.
However, developing meaningful terms, guidelines, and rules, towards future interactions can be beneficial to how the relationship progresses. Of course they must be agreed upon and adhered to as much as possible.
If you would like to work out your own basic relationship agreement (we suggest putting it in writing) hire a counselor, therapist or mediator or do it on your own. If you both feel you are capable of writing up your own relationship agreement, you might consider including the following basics:
1. Commit to not discussing past infractions or painful events unless in an agreed-upon environment, such as in a spiritual counseling, therapy or mediation session. As for the painfully-charged past: Don’t go there unless you both have support.
2. Commit to spending time together in mutually supportive environments only, ones that are conducive to relationship harmony. For example, if blow-outs occur specifically when you visit certain family members or friends, for now, until the relationship is on firmer ground.
3. Commit to spending a certain number of hours a week doing leisure or creative activities you both enjoy doing together. It may be a sport, attending a lecture, hiking, taking an art class, even shopping, as long as it is something you both enjoy. Make sure sharing, fun, and happiness are the goals. This is not the time for deep, heavy conversations.
4. Agree that if either of you see behavior in the other party that has contributed to your relationship difficulties, you’ll commit to ignoring it or walking away if possible or if not, giving a signal known to the two of you only that one party is crossing the line (the old “Sting” nose tap is an example of a signal). Only have a full discussion of what is occurring with a therapist, spiritual counselor or mediator present.
5. Make a list of behaviors that express relationship-loyalty and love. Agree that at the end of the day, before you go to sleep, each of you will share a list of the other person’s positive behaviors for that day.