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If Only It Were That Simple

arguing-coupleYou would think that a simple question would be met with a simple answer. On occasion, that is true. But often, a simple question stirs up a barrage of emotional baggage. Here are two examples:

He says: Do you know where the flashlight is?
She says: You never put anything away and then you expect me to find it. How am I supposed to know?

She says: It’s raining; will you drive carefully?
He says: Get off my back! I’m not an idiot!

Communication is not what you say; it’s what the other person hears you say. And when you have a history with that person, a simple question can conjure up a frenzy of emotions. If you’re confused about why this might happen, ask yourself:

  • How did the other person interpret my question?
  • Have my words heightened an existing conflict?
  • What was my tone of voice and body language?

If you’re thinking, so much work! Why do I need to be thinking about these things?
Why can’t I just say what I want to say?

Yes, it’s true; you have the right to keep repeating old patterns. To shake your head in disdain; tell him what an idiot he is; call her an airhead; mutter curse words and build a case for how right you are, how wrong he is.

Or, you can seek to discover the reason why a simple question did not beget a simple answer. Then, you can change your response to get a different outcome

Let’s see how that might work. First, the old pattern:

She: I know something’s bothering you. What is it? Why don’t you talk about it?
He: Nothing’s bothering me! I just want some peace and quiet here. Is that too much to ask?
She: There you go again. Not talking to me. I’m sick of it.
He: Silence
She: What kind of a marriage do we have? You don’t share anything with me. I’ve had it with you!

You can see where this conversation is going. Time to batten down the hatches!

Now let’s imagine that she starts off with the same complaint, but both parties communicate in a more thoughtful manner:

She: I know something’s bothering you. What is it? Why don’t you talk about it?
He: Nothing’s bothering me! I just had a stressful day and want to relax. Please, give me some time to unwind.
She: Okay. Retreat to your cave. When you’re done hibernating, which I hope will be soon, I’m here to listen.
He: I know, but sometimes I just like to be quiet. I’m not like you; I don’t always like to talk about it.
She: I know you’re a quiet guy. But it makes me feel so alone, left out and distant from you when you don’t talk to me. I want us to get closer by sharing our stuff.
He: I hear you. But right now, I’m zonked. Let me be, and we’ll talk later after the kids are asleep.
She: OK. I look forward to it.

acceptanceWhat did this couple do that de-escalated the conflict? Here are just 4 communication skills that made a difference. They:

  • Listened to each other, validating the other’s viewpoint.
  • Stated their own needs without attacking their spouse.
  • Communicated respectfully and optimistically.
  • Avoided gridlock by seeking a solution to the conflict.

Relationships will thrive, or fail, based on your communications skills. It’s never too late to learn more effective ways to get closer to your life partner.

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