This is one of the big issues most couples have struggled with at some point in their relationship: who pulled the trigger on a toxic event – who was really responsible for the mess?
It usually goes something like this:
“If you hadn’t said ______________________ I wouldn’t have been so ____________________!”
“Well, if you hadn’t been so ________________ I wouldn’t have said ______________________!”
And round and round it goes. A circle of blame and justification for bad behaviors. Both partners not feeling understood around their respective grievances, because the context felt so critical to the sequence.
If you’ve ever been in one of these go-arounds, (and chances are, you have been, more often than you’d like to admit), then you know too keenly that this kind of exchange only contributes to raising blood pressure and your dog, who’s been witnessing it, getting more weirded out by the minute. (That’s another post: “Want the truth? Then watch the dog!”)
I’ve worked with couples who escalated so intensely around this kind of exchange that they fought for hours about this Who Started It All nonsense, then punished each other for days or weeks afterward!
So, what’s a more productive line of questioning to pursue around a fight? – one which might actually move the two of you toward some healthy ownership, some forgiveness, repair, resolution and some learning?
It’s a few simple questions to ask yourself:
“Where was I in that fight?”
“What were my contributions to that problem?”
“What do I regret about my own behavior in that situation?”
“What could I have done differently, even though I felt provoked?”
(My often blamed) but wise husband says: “In other words, take a look at yourself, because that’s the only thing you can actually change!”
I’m reprinting a brief article I received from the Gottman Institute about how to approach your partner with a complaint without the complaint getting experienced as a criticism, or an attack on their character. This “softened startup” is an approach I’ve been advocating for years to couples, but I thought it was very succinctly captured in the Gottman’s article. Here it is:
In the last Marriage Minute, we talked about Criticism, the first of the Four Horsemen. To review, criticism is an attack on your partner’s character or personality, often starting with “you always” or “you never.” Or you can be more direct with criticism: “You are so lazy,” or, “That’s just like you, finding any excuse not to spend time with me.”
Fortunately, it’s reversible.
The antidote to Criticism is what we call The Softened Start-Up.
To soften your start-up means to approach a conversation with how you’re feeling about the situation, not your perception of your partner’s flaws or behavior. There’s a difference between complaints and criticism. A complaint addresses a specific instance or action and acknowledges how it made you feel.
A good formula to remember is:
“I feel [your feeling]”
- left out
“About [the specific behavior, not a pattern of behavior]”
- “when I’m not invited to virtual happy hours with your friends,”
- “when you don’t read the articles I send you,”
- “when we don’t have dinner together.”
“And I need [state the positive need].”
- “to know what your preferred evening schedule looks like and how I can be a part of it,”
- “to feel like you’re interested in the things I care about,”
- “to spend some quality time together this week.”
Practice softening your start-up.
You can even practice together with your partner, giving advice to an imaginary couple who struggles with criticism. For example, how would you soften “You always leave dirty dishes in the sink”?
You can also apply this formula to positive things—”I feel cared for when you check in to see how my day is going!”
In this thirty minute episode I’ll co-host with Dr. Laura Louis, author of the popular book, “Marital Peace,” which is a valuable resource for supporting couples throughout the challenges of marriage.
Dr. Louis has specialized in helping distant couples heal after infidelity, and in the program discusses some of the ways she recommends rebuilding trust, rekindling intimacy and enhancing communication. Her therapeutic approach has been influenced through trainings in Brazil, Mexico, London and Haiti, as well as hundreds of transformative seminars all over the world.
Don’t miss this vital program if you and your spouse have endured or feel at risk for an affair! Learn some key tools to not only help avoid infidelity, but to restore trust, build forgiveness, and promote growth after an affair. You too can achieve marital peace after this traumatic development.
Call in live with questions or comments at 877-497-9046.
If you can’t make the live show you can listen to the podcast afterward at: www.BlogTalkRadio.com/SusanLager
One way or another, I hope you can join us!
If you’re in a marriage or any kind of long term partnership, after the initial rose-colored glow has worn off, you’ve probably had the unpleasant experience of each seeing the same events very differently. Either you remember the “significant” details around the situation differently, or you have alternate realities about who said what, who did what, what was decided or who’s to blame. Sound familiar? If it does, you probably have also experienced some of the unsavory effects of this disconnect – like hostility, mistrust, disappointment, or hurt. If so, unfortunately, you’re in good company with half the planet.
I call this situation the “Battle for The Truth” – as though there were an objective reality or single “truth” to events. The hard thing is that “The Truth” is all about individual perspective, observation and context, so you may already realize that arguing over “The Truth” is usually fruitless.
If you’d like to learn more about how this plays out in relationships, signs it’s happening, long-term effects, and tools to put down your weapons, then tune into a terrific BlogTalk Radio program scheduled for Tuesday, February 2nd at 8PM EST: “The Texas Conflict Coach.” Host Pattie Porter, a famous conflict expert is having me on as her guest. Join us live on the show with questions or comments by calling (347)324-3591. If you can’t make the live show you can hear the recording on BlogTalk Radio at: http://www.texasconflictcoach.com/category/upcoming-shows/
Either way, hope you can join us!
The other day I got into a heated argument with my (frustrated lawyer) 23-year old son. I accused him / my husband of misplacing the spare key to our house which we keep in a hidden place in our garage. Given the fact that my son Alec NEVER puts anything back where it should be, it seemed only logical that he was the probable culprit, although my A.D.D. riddled husband was a likely runner up. (I, of course, NEVER misplace anything, I’m so perfect.) My outraged son said that the context was highly exaggerated and moot, and that my default position of blaming was NASTY and UNFAIR! (Of course, shortly afterward I found the key in question buried under a pile of beach bags and coolers we all use). But it got me thinking about how often I’m guilty of blaming, and how frequently I see it in my couples therapy practice, and how toxic it usually is. There are a few things we all need to do to avoid the “blame game”:
1. Admit we have been doing it and resolve to STOP.
2. Think about our own part in a problem & take responsibility for our own role, not project it outward. (i.e. me considering how I may also have contributed to the garage mess leading to the missing key).
3. Consider how we may set ourselves up for being seen as the “guilty party”, and change our behavior. (Alec being willing to look at the context– that if he’s continually leaving things all over the house, car and yard, it would be logical for others to assume he’s also the one who LOST THE KEY!!!!!!)
Thankfully, in our case it ended with a truce and good will. But if you do it too with some frequency in your relationships, watch out — it’s a relationship “sinkhole”!
P.S. Take my newly published Couplespeak™ Marriage Fitness Test at: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Susan_Lager