Discover the Magic of “Relationship Jiu-jitsu”


An argument between two people (lovers, spouses, family members) is a kind of psychological battle often filled with personal attacks, accusations, and dredging up past mistakes.

When both parties are exhausted, or one grudgingly concedes, the fight ends – for the moment. But nothing has changed; resentment has just gone underground until it’s dug up again, and hostilities soon resume.

But it needn’t be this way. There’s a little known “magic” that can stop any fight in the moment, and helps prevent the next one from getting starting. It’s the result of what we can call “relationship jiu-jitsu.” 

Jiu-jitsu is an ancient Japanese martial art based in “the art of yielding.” The combatants use special “moves” to turn an opponent’s energy back on them.

But here, I’m using the term psychologically, where the opponent isn’t a person we’re fighting. The true “opponent” to be overcome is a negative, lower level of consciousness in each of us that blames the other for the punishing pattern we’re both caught up in. 

To apply “relationship jiu-jitsu,” at least one of us must see we’re about to mindlessly repeat some old pattern that has no winner. So, instead of acting from the negative energy we feel – having seen the futility of throwing it at the other person who will only throw it back at us – we do something completely new: rather than try to “prove” we’re right, we use the moment to discover something about ourselves that will not only help transform us, but maybe the other person as well! 

If you’re ready to break old patterns with a little “relationship jiu-jitsu,” here are specific steps to follow in the heat of any battle.

  1. Reverse Your Attention

Being upset with someone tends to block self-awareness. All you see is someone you believe is “making” you feel bad. They are responsible for the negativity you feel. But the true cause lies in unseen expectations you brought to the moment that aren’t being met; this means your own demands are a big part of the problem between you.

So, instead of focusing on what the other person is doing that irritates you, reverse your attention and place it on what’s going on within you. This is the first step to making the inner transformation that can change the moment. 

  1. Instead of resisting the other person’s negative state, ask yourself, “What can I learn from you about myself?”

When you resist another's negative state, you just make them more negative. Instead, meet people differently with this inner request: “What can I learn about myself from you?” It makes a huge difference in what comes up in you and what you can learn about yourself as a result.

In this completely different order of relationship you’re aware of yourself, the other person, and the similarities between you. Out of this comes new compassion and the possibility for a transformed interaction.

  1. Remember, the other person is doing the best they know to do, and would do better if they knew better.

When we’re hurt by someone, we try to make them change. But, it’s not in our power to change anyone.

Here’s what is in our power to do: When someone hurts us, we can remember they’re doing the best they know to do...but they’re blind to their own actions. They can only see that for themselves if we stop punishing them, which we’ll do if we realize we were the same as them a moment earlier. Now we know better and can begin to stop the cycle of arguing. When we stop fighting, our opponent is forced to see themselves, giving them the chance to change.

  1. Realize it’s not your pain, or my pain, but our pain.

Whenever two people fight, both are in pain. So, best to attend to self-healing rather than trying to prove who’s “right.” Our new intention is to be conscious of us, a choice that let’s us see the truth of the moment: we are both in pain, and it’s this pain that has picked the fight. The healing inherent in this revelation releases us from any wish to punish the other person, shattering the old pattern.

See the Gift in the Moment

In moments of conflict, catch the divisive belief that “You are different from me.” This allows us to capture the surging negative energy and turn it around so instead of driving us farther apart, it draws us closer through our deeper understanding of ourselves and each other.

These moments are a gift that can be used to help us transcend ourselves and elevate the relationship. A little “relationship jiu-jitsu” is key to this transformation.


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