The Upper Hand

In relationships, there are people who care less and people who care more.

Whichever category we fall into, our DNA almost certainly enters in. However, the person who cares least is making a choice; whether consciously or unconsciously. 

A tendency can stem from the instinct to self-protect. It can be learned behavior, a victim mentality. It can be the result of wounds and scars. And it can be flat out pride, arrogance and self-absorption that cultivates this strong desire for superiority. But no matter how well we grasp the psychology of this dynamic, seek to depersonalize it and rise above it, it is still challenging -- at best -- to navigate an honest, loving relationship with someone whose default priority in conflict is often gaining the upper hand.

I'm not simply writing about a concept. I have experienced this again and again over my lifetime. And I've experienced it recently. When a fresh wound is inflicted on top of many old wounds, the pain is magnified. The pain is as familiar as it is deep. 

The pain is not my struggle, though. 

I am good at rising above disrespect and insensitivity because I've had a lot of practice. I've always chosen gratitude over "poor me." 

My struggle is in figuring out how I should choose to respond. 

Years of counseling, books and college courses on emotional health remind me that avoiding conflict is not the equivalent of peace. Sometimes conflict is healthy and necessary. But I am inhibited and haunted (in all relationships) by the fear of not being able to verbally express myself perfectly and uttering words that can never be unsaid in a moment of my own hurt, disappointment or anger. My worst fear is inflicting a wound on someone I love. I never want to intentionally strike or hurt back because I'm hurt. So I either write (because I can choose my words more carefully) or I shut down and withdraw. 

I suppress and wrestle and suppress and wrestle ... until I can rebound, let go, and move on. 

I'm fortunate to have a husband who is my best friend. He listens to me. He gives me insightful feedback when I ask for it (and sometimes even when I don't). Because he is honest with me when I am being sensitive, he has total credibility when he tells me I am not being sensitive.

It's my nature and personality to pursue people, resolution and understanding even when no effort is being made in my direction. I can't think of a single time in my life that I've let pride stand in my way. My greatest struggle right now is in knowing I am going to have to form some new boundaries of my own and guard my heart better than I have up to this point. I may have to accept that the potential for a particular relationship is more limited than I would have hoped or believed. I've come to terms with this reality in other relationships only to have them surprise me and flourish at a time of God's choosing, not my own. With this post, I'm attempting to release this relationship to God in that same way. 

But in spite of the pain and vulnerability that accompanies it, I still want to be the person who cares more. I want to be wise and guard my heart. But I never want having the upper hand to be my goal, much less my priority, in any relationship. 

When I come to the end of my life, regardless of those who do, I know I will not wish I had chosen the upper hand over a compassionate heart. 


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