Having a healthy filter is important for partners in a relationship, as well as for our day-to-day interactions with anyone who has a proclivity for pushing our buttons.

So what is a healthy filter?

It’s our ability to filter what is being said or not said to us through our healthy self-esteem — through our ability to hold our self in warm regard amidst the feedback or the withdrawal we encounter from others.

For example, if my wife is expressing her upset and frustration at me for forgetting to pay a bill I had said I would pay, I know that although I did something that was sloppy and absent-minded, I am still a good person and will try better next time. That is holding myself in warm regard.

I don’t take a one-down position of wallowing in self-pity when confronted (“I am such a terrible, terrible person!”). Nor do I move to a narcissistic one-up position of blaming her for the problem (“Well maybe you should make more money to help with these bills!” or “Why didn’t you remind me?”). Sometimes we start one-down and then work our way up to one-up, or we may vacillate between the two. In any case, these responses are unproductive and will lead to further conflict.

Our primal response when confronted is either to fight (get defensive, blame and argue), flee (collapse into self-pity), or fix.

We have to train our relational muscle to avoid going one-down, or one-up and this takes discipline — the discipline not to engage in a primal response even when our physiology is telling us to. Instead we work to create space between our primal reaction and a healthy response.

This space can be cultivated by taking a deep breath and utilizing an internal mantra. Your internal mantra should begin with “slow down.” You might say to yourself, “Slow down — I can treasure my position, or I can treasure my relationship.”

relationship first

Then, going further, apply your healthy filter: “My wife is upset at me for forgetting a bill I said I would pay. However, I am not a terrible person. It’s also not her fault I didn’t pay it. I can empathize with how she would be upset.”

When you have created space and the healthy filter is utilized, your response is then, “I’m sorry. I said I would do it and I didn’t. I will go online and pay it right now.”

It really is that easy. But it is also one of the hardest things you will do.

Also, if I would like to address how my wife initially offered her feedback, I will do so when we have cooled down and I have addressed her issue. Otherwise, we would be likely to lob blame back and forth until our tempers were running high. Remember: slow down!

This blog is based on training in Terry Real’s Relational Life Therapy (RLT).

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