-- Question for John --
My partner and I have been married for six months. The other day l said something very stupid which upset her. I apologized right away and she said she forgave me. But then she got mad again. I even promised to make it up to her by doing something she really likes together. But now she says we must do this every time — or she wont forgive me.
Is it right for her to hold this mistake over my head for so long? Did I do enough to show how sorry I was? I have tried to explain to her I feel she is trying to get back at me for what I said. I also told her I felt she was trying to manipulate the situation. Am I wrong to think she should forgive and forget?
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-- Answer from John --
The two of you are getting involved in the first stage of what we call a “Polarity Dance” — or a battle over differences that gets acted out by two people taking opposite positions over some issue.
Just to point out one of the easiest signs to spot for such a polarity dance — you are asking me if you are “wrong” to think she “should” forgive and forget. The way you phrase the question itself — and those buzz words (“right” “wrong” “should”) — directly reveal the first stage of polarization. Quite obviously, she is matching you in polarizing, from her side. It takes two to tango, as they say. It takes both partners to create a polarity dance.
The question is not who is right. The real question is this:
“Would you rather be right — or happy?”
Most couples fall into polarities unconsciously — and often. It is a natural tendency of couples to fall into them. Partners discover how they have different styles of communicating and emotional expression. This then becomes the basis for a polarity dance — where you say the other person “should” not be the way they are, that they are “wrong” and you are “right” in the proper way of communicating and feeling.
The first couple of years of marriage — at least for a couple that will make it longterm — is about coming to recognize the unconscious process of polarizing. It’s learning to see it, and learning how to keep it from ruining the positive love you share.
Of course, you know that almost half of all first marriages end in divorce. So obviously there is another thing at least half of couples do instead — i.e. they continue to fight over who is “right” instead of figuring out how to avoid polarizing. And they escalate their polarity until resentments and upsets eclipse any memories of good feelings and positive love.
So it is your choice which type of couple you want to be — the kind that stays together and builds positive love, or the kind that tries to figure out who is “right” and does the polarity dance until one partner opts to get off the dance floor.
I strongly recommend you stop this polarity dance where it is now — and dedicate yourselves to learning strategies for reversing it.
You can get through this phase and become even more solid as a couple in doing so. It just takes a little applied education.