Do you ever feel backed into a corner in an argument? Or forced to choose sides between polarizing forces? Perhaps in your intimate partner or family relationships? Perhaps in our wider, increasingly divisive social sphere?
One of the biggest relationship-savers that Trevor and I have discovered over the last few years is to recognize when we’re in this tug-of-war – when we feel stuck in a me-vs.-him/him-vs.-me argument – and then look for a ‘Third Way’.
Now, I know this idea of ‘third way’ has lots of religious, sociological and political baggage attached with it, but honestly in the face of dualistic, divisive ‘discussions’ its still the best phrase I’ve come up with, so let me unpack what I mean by a ‘Third Way’:
- The Third Way listens to both sides as non-judgmentally as possible, valuing the other above the argument and seeing the disagreement as an opportunity to seek deeper knowledge of the other;
- The Third Way then looks for similarities, shared goals, and points of empathetic connection as a starting place to build something better, together;
- The Third Way seeks steps forward that acknowledge, honour and value each person’s perspectives, and are therefore richer for their shared understanding.
- The Third Way is not interested in ‘compromise’ in its traditional sense of each party giving up for the sake of tacit, grudging acceptance. Rather the Third Way is about a commitment to genuine collaboration – a potentially long-term process – built on the belief that when we truly hear one another we can create something far more beautiful than when we simply insist on right/wrong, dualistic arguments.
- The Third Way defines success not as ‘winning the fight’ but as creating a better way forward.
What I notice is that the more grounded I become – the more sh*t I sort out in my own life – the better able I become at this Third Way path of response. I become increasingly able to know where ‘I’ start and the ‘other’ ends, while simultaneously becoming more convinced of our shared humanity. I come to know the shape of what I need while respecting and even empathizing with the shape of where another sits.
The next time you find yourself hitting your metaphorical head against the illusory brick wall of your life, I wonder what would happen if you pressed ‘pause’ and asked yourself ‘is there a third way through’? And if you’re struggling to find that path, then perhaps there is more work to be done in grounding yourself deeply in the person you were always made to be?
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