Tag Archives: conflict

We Need To Talk

Talk

There is probably no phrase that a woman can utter that strikes terror in the heart of a man more than:

“We need to talk!”

Guys hearing this may start to feel their heart rate climb, their blood pressure escalate, and the anxiety and fear level skyrocket. Calm down guys, I will interpret this for you.

What you hear is: “You’re in trouble, mister!” (And so you brace yourself for the danger ahead.)

What she most likely means is: “I have an unmet expectation that I want to discuss.” (And she is afraid that what is important to her is going to be discounted.)

I want to emphasize that the expectation may or may not be realistic. At this point it is inconsequential. Again, calm yourself down, put on your listening ears and make some time for her. This will de-escalate her emotions, even if it doesn’t seem like it to you at the moment. She may hold an expectation that you can actually meet that will not be as painful as you fear.

Single ladies (in particular): a word of caution. Be very careful when using the phrase (We need to talk about) “The Relationship”. These days those are hot button words. You don’t want a guy to go defensive on you. “The Relationship” is really you and him. It does not exist outside as a separate entity. There seems to be a lot of anxiety around DTR (determining the relationship), but it doesn’t need to be that way. Having a non-anxious conversation might be as easy as choosing a better way to initiate a discussion.

So what might be a better conversation starter?

How about: “I have some thoughts. Would you be willing to listen to them?” or “I’ve been thinking about you (us) lately and would like to process some things.”

He (or she) may still be skeptical, but will be less likely to throw up the deflector shield. A sure way to steer the conversation in a good direction is to lead with an affirmation. It could be anything. “I know you’ve been working hard” or “I know you never intend to hurt my feelings…” Any phrase like that is likely to reduces defenses and pave the way to a better discussion.

I have written this before, and I will state it again. Before you bring up a volatile or touchy subject, be sure to check your anger at the door. If you need to emote, do it where it won’t be heard by the one you are upset with. Process with a trusted same sex friend if need be. Then bring the “sanitized”, less toxic version to the other person.

You’ll thank me later.

Are You One of the Quiet People?

Become-a-Quiet-Person

There is no such thing as absolute quiet within our world. Rather, there is the absence of certain sounds. I have control over some of them and powerlessness before other ones.

For some people quiet means something is wrong. They are never without some form of noise. The television or radio must be on, or ear buds  must always be securely in place. A break in a conversation must be filled in with words.

For us it is the opposite. By temperament we are quiet people. Silence means that all is well. I know where this comes from in my life and it is not because I am an extreme introvert or anything like that. I grew up in an anxious family where the emotional tension was palpable at times. When things were stressful my father would get angry and withdraw and my mother would talk – compulsively. The more tense the situation, the more my Mom would talk. The television was rarely off in the evenings. I think it served as an emotional buffer a part of the time.

I remember a vacation we took up the coast of California. We had one of those little travel trailers, less than 15 feet long. It was designed to sleep a bunch of people and not much more. My Mom decided driving up Highway 1 between San Simeon and Carmel would be a fun idea. My Dad thought otherwise, but being somewhat a passive-aggressive person, he agreed. Our station wagon was relatively old, and navigating the narrow, sometimes steep road pulling a trailer was very stressful for him. His anxiety triggered Mom’s anxiety and so we spent several long hours listening to my Dad being angry and blaming, and my Mom talking incessantly. So much for a pleasant vacation for us kids.

My love of music compelled me to break this tendency towards quiet. When first married and for many years afterwards our house was constantly filled with music – live and otherwise. Music is joy for me and for Nan. For years Nan danced around the stereo when the television was turned off, hooked up to a pair of Koss headphones. I think maybe Nan drowned out the more unpleasant parts of life with music (loneliness from being unequally yoked in part). It was a skill she picked up while living in her chaotic home growing up. As a child I used to practice piano for hours at a time joyfully, but it was also my coping mechanism for blocking out conflict. As an adult I used music to try to give meaning to life and masked the unpleasantness with alcohol.

But these days the need for quiet is strong. The contemplative side of me has emerged. Perhaps it’s a natural reflective state of being for those of us who are aging. Regardless, those quiet moments are very life-giving. I am more aware of my senses – color, sounds, smells, taste, touch and our sixth sense – spirituality. In those places of pause, I am more likely to hear the still, small voice of our Creator.

I have tried to develop tolerance and patience for those who are not quiet people. But I gravitate towards those who are calm, especially during our off-work times. Perhaps you can relate to me because you are like me. Or maybe you can empathize and try to develop tolerance and patience for people like us because you are not.

All of us need connection, we just do it differently.

Are You in a Relationship With a Rule Maker?

rules

One of the constants that couples may have to fight within themselves is the tendency to become parental or the “rule maker” in their relationship. Sometimes these rules are overt when they are presented as commands: “Don’t turn on the television immediately when you walk through the door from work!” Other rules are covert or unspoken and you don’t know about them until you break them: “How could you leave hair in the bathroom sink?”

Making rules can be a big intimacy destroyer in a relationship.

Often the rule maker also appoints themselves the rule enforcer. Since they made up the rules, they feel like they have the right to enforce the rules. But there is a big problem here: their partner didn’t agree to the rules or didn’t know about them. How are rules enforced? They are imposed in many typically maladaptive ways – passively, aggressively or passive-aggressively. In other words I might get angry or withdraw or nag or treat you with silent contempt – but somehow I will make you pay.

Early in our marriage Nan or I would defend our rules by saying “Well, if I didn’t need you to do such and such, then I wouldn’t ask.” The message was clear: “This is one of my rules that you need to obey.” And that was a source of conflict for us until we were able to learn to compromise and agree. Oh, by the way – that took a long time and sometimes we still stumble across it in our relationship.

The best way to deal with a rule-maker is to first reflect what they have said (“So you would like me to connect with you before turning on the television when I come home from work?”) Then you can kindly ask to have a discussion. (“Let’s talk about that.”) You are gently asserting your power within the relationship and letting your partner know that you need to be treated with respect. If you have a very dominant or aggressive partner you may have to be more firm and set a harder boundary. (“I am not comfortable with the way you are approaching me with your ‘request’. We need to talk about this.”)

I have been known, when given a direct command by Nan, to smile and reply, “Are you asking me?” Again, I am communicating my adult status in the relationship. She is always gracious and replies “Sorry. Would you mind….”)? Then there is no conflict that follows and usually I am willing to meet her request – or at least negotiate with her.

When it comes to unspoken rules, we need to identify them. Our partner can’t read our mind, and they didn’t grow up in our family so that they automatically know what is expected.  Then we need to talk about them, where we agree and where we disagree. That is one of the exercises that we have couples do in our premarrieds class. It saves a lot of unpleasant conflict later in the marriage.

Whether you are a rule-maker or in a relationship with one, talking about it when you are not in the heat of a conflict can be very helpful. Kindness and humility will win the day.

If you need help from an outside party, don’t be too proud to ask.