Do you ever wonder why your arguments with your partner seem so circular? Like “Arrrggghhhh! We have had this discussion 10,000 times and it never turns out any different!” Would you like to learn how to open the door to peaceful resolution? It takes work to be present when you are angry or hurt, but wouldn’t you rather begin a conversation that opens communication rather than shutting it down with criticism?
Couples disagree fairly often, hence they become irritated with one another. Most of the time it isn’t even over anything particularly big. But it can escalate over time, in the same way that many small paper cuts can become quite painful if you don’t figure out a way to prevent them.
I hear arguments about laundry, pack-ratting, dirty dishes, childcare, and sigh…toilet seats. What I want to teach you is how to get heard by your partner when these little irritants surface, and before they have you sitting in my office ready to file for divorce.
Criticism and Complaint
Do you know the difference between criticism and complaint? Because many people think they do, but they get it wrong. Criticism is an attack on someone’s character, their very personhood. Here’s an example, dripping with sarcasm I might add.
Jamie (offense): “Chris, how is it you can manage to walk all the way across the room to drop your clothes on the floor within a foot of the hamper?”
Chris (defense): “I was in a hurry and had to leave for work, plus I didn’t have a free hand. You can get them with the laundry today, right?”
Jamie (now fuming): “I am not your maid! And I cannot tell which clothes are dirty and which are clean if you don’t put them in the hamper!”
Chris (pissed now): “I have to go!” And stalks off to work. No good bye kiss, no have a nice day.
Is that what it looks like in your home?
That is what will keep happening if Jamie does not figure out how to open the door to feeling heard and getting Chris to listen with an open mind. It is quite likely that Chris felt attacked, especially if a partner in past relationships created this feeling.
When you feel attacked, you defend. You don’t listen. It is a natural response.
If you want to get heard, open with stating your need. That is what a proper complaint does: it states a need and how that need might be met. And even if the other person cannot meet your need they way you want it, negotiations now are open for other possibilities. Here’s the redo.
Jamie: “Hey Chris, when you put your clothes into the hamper, I know they need washing. [A nice soft start up] Otherwise, I end up not knowing, and have to wash everything in order to know they are clean. That’s why we end up with extra laundry sometimes. I want you and the kids to have clean clothes, and I know you don’t want me to wash clothes that are already clean [benefit of the doubt extended here]. Can you help me out on this?” [A specific request–no accusations included]
Chris: “Sure, but you might need to remind me when I’m in a rush [Accepting responsibility]. I really don’t want to cause you unnecessary work.” [Message received!]
End of discussion. Jamie states a need. Chris meets the need because s/he does not experience criticism, and doesn’t mind being reminded once in a while. There is no need to be in defense mode. A softened start up doesn’t hurt either! It really helps when you are able to be mindful enough to leave your sarcasm and your righteous indignation behind.Then you can simply ask for what you need in the moment (no piling on please!). Most of the time you will get a positive response, or a good reason why the other cannot comply, but possibly a compromise. You have opened the door in a way that allows the other person to hear what you are saying precisely because they don’t feel threatened or attacked.
If conflict management is an area where your skills could use some sharpening, give me a shout.
Life will always be filled with challenges. And I simply see no point in struggling with them alone.
Shoot me an email if this is the case. Or go to my contact page; there are several ways to reach me. Together we can target the areas that cause you trouble and aim for improvement.