Relationships are hard. Somehow the people we let closest to our hearts are the ones with the most capacity to hurt us. Yet, without letting them in, love can never flourish. It’s part of the paradox and thrill of love. But how do we respond when we are harmed by those closest to us, whether a misstep or intentional?
For most, our responses run in one of two directions: We either act like everything’s okay and sweep it under the rug or we fight fire with fire and get even. The problem is, neither of these options will ever get us anywhere new. It leads to a perpetuation of a cycle of resentment or anger that, unless changed, will always escalate into greater pain for everyone.
Third-way thinking is when we choose not to withdraw or retaliate, but rather try a new way. Third-way thinking can have profound effects on who we are, what we do, and the way we approach our world and relationships. There will always be a third option other than the ones listed above, and in taking that option, a greater chance of healthy change is possible. I want to address it on a more intimate level. What happens when we practice third way thinking in our romantic relationships? What happens when we look at the same old fights with the same old partner, and finally see if there is another way to get to a resolution?
Meet Jim and Jane. They have argued for years over how Jim allows his mother have too much of a say in how they parent their children. Jim assumes that Jane does not like his mother while Jane assumes Jim is afraid to stand up to his mother. Every time they talk about parenting, it becomes an endless cycle of arguing and pain. They decided to begin therapy, a step that can begin the process of third-way thinking. Change then begins to happen. Jane learns Jim’s experience of being raised by a single mother is the reason he often struggles confronting his mother. Jim learns when his mom is judgmental of their parenting, it only echoes Jane’s own fears about herself as a mom. They begin to learn to see each other as a safe refuge through this new way of communication and not a place of tension, anger, and pain. The marriage begins to change from toxic to thriving.
Here are a few suggestions on how to engage in this practice of third-way thinking:
- Be courageous. Refuse to accept the way things have been and fight for change. If we do the same thing over and over again, we will always get the same result.
- Be curious. Ask questions for a better understanding. You don’t have to agree, but this could lead to new insights.
- Be creative. Try a new response. Instead of just “Let’s stop doing what we have done” think “What can we do differently”.
- Be compassionate. First towards yourself and then towards the one you love.
Third-way thinking is built on the premise that no matter how desperate things seem, there’s always another way and there’s always hope. May we find that hope in the relationships we choose and in learning to love the ones we allow close to our hearts.