Relationships, Part 52: Constructive Conflict: Commemorate

If you and your partner succeed in having a difficult conversation and come away with something resolved, there’s one more thing you need to do before you are done.

Remember it.

You don’t want to have to cover that ground again.

There are some couples who have the same fight over and over. Each time, they settle it somehow, but the next time they don’t remember what they decided. Or they remember things differently. Then they argue over who remembered what.

It’s far better, when you are basking in the warm glow of a successful negotiation, to immediately write down what you have decided. Think of it as minutes of a board meeting, or an amendment to a marital constitution, or as an important contract. The key is to commit it to writing and put it in a safe place where you can refer to it later.

You may want to keep a file just for this purpose. In the file you keep all your agreements so you can find them if you need them.

Many people resist writing things down because they want their relationship to be a dynamic living thing, not a dry, legalistic business arrangement. Well, writing things down doesn’t have to mean that you can’t revise it if you need to, if you follow due process. Your relationship can still breathe. Think of these documents like the bones of a body that give it structure, definition, and strength. Think of them as the bass line of music, upon which the band builds harmonies. They’re like the laws of physics, which underwrite all beauty, motion, and grace; or, the Periodic Table of the Elements, which makes chemistry possible.

The process of recording what you just agreed on might reveal overlooked holes or gaps in your mutual understanding. There’s something about committing things to writing that forces people to be more precise. The devil’s in the details, so you may want to work them out now, while you and your partner are on a roll, rather than when they emerge later.

Commemoration also involves doing something fun. Celebration your accomplishment. I suppose that’s what make-up sex is all about, but it doesn’t have to stop there. Have make-up sex, by all means, but also consider going out to dinner, taking a vacation, renewing your vows. Go to the hardware store, buy a hatchet, and take it out in the backyard and bury it. Create or designate some kind of a symbol of your new agreement: a work of art or a piece of furniture, some jewelry, plant a tree. Have something that you can point to and say, this is a sign of your new covenant, an emblem of the renewal of love.

You and your partner just accomplished something important. You took a conflict that could have driven you apart, you wrestled with it while maintaining respect for each other. This is the kind of operation that, if done enough, can save the world. Give yourself some credit, pat yourself on the back, and celebrate. Make this success something that you will never forget.


Click here to go to the entire Relationships series.

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