Here are some statements you may recognize:
- “You never listen to me”
- “You always have to get your way, don’t you? We always end up doing what you want”
- “You just think you’re the greatest and I’m just some idiot you can fool”
- “You’re a jerk, that’s what you are, and you know it”
- “You’re always so right, aren’t you? Well, you just think you are, but you aren’t!”
- [Add you own]
Now, please take a minute to really experience each of these statements. If somebody, especially somebody you love, who may be upset at the moment, said this to you, how would you feel?
Notice how they all start with the word “you”?
Notice how they over generalize, presume to know what you are thinking or both?
Notice how the last one even goes further by stating something on your behalf and then responding to it as if it were true?
If you have been in a long term relationship long enough (and since you are reading a parenting blog, it is likely you have been), you can probably come up with quite a few examples of things “the other person” says to you on a regular basis, which you find infuriating. In fact, saying them is just like pressing some invisible button in your mind and triggering anger and resentment.
After delivering one of these “beauties”, all Hell breaks loose and conversations become fights. In fact, you may wonder sometimes how a nice evening turned into a storm in seconds. What went wrong?
Before we move on, please take another minute to find a few statements similar to those listed above, which you use, maybe not frequently, but regularly, in your relationships, after which there is no return.
You see, the key here is taking responsibility. Let me explain.
Responsibility is when you own and account for your actions and feelings. This sounds like a lot and it sometimes is, but unless you are a minor and unless this is a legal discussion, every person in the world has the power to control his or her actions and feelings. Not just actions. Actions and feelings. If you cannot do something, you can always decide to feel good about it anyway. If you do something well, you can choose to be happy about it. Are you with me so far?
The great thing about this definition of responsibility is that as soon as you adopt it, you are accepting ownership of everything you do and feel, while at the same time letting go of other people’s actions and feelings. After all, those are their responsibility by the same definition, so you do not have to worry about them anymore. Do I hear a sigh of relief?
So let’s say you are really good with technology and your wife is not. And let’s say she does things in a way that gets her in trouble later and you bail her out and then show her how to do it properly the next time. And let’s say you have already been in this situation a number of times, but sure enough, 2 days later, she has done the same thing again.
Many people (I dare say most people) will choose Option 1 and say “You never listen to me. I’ve shown you how to do this properly a million times. Why don’t you listen once?”
Looking from the sidelines, it is clearly a very inaccurate statement and contains assumptions about your wife’s abilities and intentions. Specifically, she probably listens sometimes or you would not be together, a million is an inhumanly large number of times to show anything to anyone. And maybe she was doing her best all the time and simply cannot relate to technology well enough to save her life.
May I suggest Option 2?
The responsible way to describe this situation is that your wife was doing her best and you got upset. She may have used the opportunity to get a service from you to feel loved. She may have wanted your attention. She may have been trying to make you feel capable, or she may have forgotten everything you had told her, because this looked different to that other time.
But you got upset.
So just say it the way it is, “I’m frustrated I have to stop what I’m doing and come to help you when this is something I’ve shown you how to do before”. Much better!
The likely response will be, “I know you did, but I need to finish this and I’m under a lot of pressure and I couldn’t remember what you told me last time and this looks different and I wanted to make sure I do it right and I knew you could help me. Will you help me? Please?” Awwwww…
In coaching sessions, we often suggest to our clients to view people as large ships. Each ship has a few hundred crew (the subconscious mind) and one captain (the conscious mind). A relationship is like two of those ships sailing side by side.
When one captain wants the other ship to change course, he (or she) must use external communication channels, like radio, flags or light signals, to deliver his messages to the other captain. Alas, the captain does not do the communication directly. He tells his crew to do it and they may change it a bit. On the other ship, the crew receive the message and deliver it, more or less, to their own captain, who then decides what to do.
All this time, each captain only knows what goes on aboard the other ship through this somewhat questionable transmission method, and has absolutely no direct way to influence changes on the other ship.
So it is best not to assume anything about the other ship and let the other captain know as much as possible about our own status, so he can make informed decisions.
The best way to communicate, especially when things get a bit emotional, is by “Seeing I to I”:
- Start your sentences with the word “I”
- Describe your feelings as accurately as possible. It is OK to feel (men, are you still here?). Really, it is. There is a difference between frustration and sadness and once you focus on coming up with a good description, you may find more clarity in your own mind even before you start talking
- It is also OK for the other person to feel. Agreed? As long as he or she sticks to “I”, how can you argue? Without “you”, nobody is saying that anything is your fault, so it is not
- Use the word “you” only to say good things or to recall indisputable facts. For example, “I got really worried when you weren’t home at 6”. Even then, tread carefully, because words and phrases can easily be redirected (“I don’t need you to worry about me. I’m not a kid”)
The next time you find yourself in a surprisingly hostile debate, recall your last few statements and you may find “you” in them. Stop, breathe deeply, take mental responsibility for your feelings, apologize and rephrase using “I”. Should be smooth(er) sailing from there.
I will be very happy to read your experiences using these tips, so please try them and share with us what happened.