Monday, August 29, 2011

Don’t Tell Me Who I Am!


We don’t like to be told who we are. Sometimes we define our partner aggressively – “You’re lazy.”, “You’re a bitch.”, or “You’re worthless.” Generally we are more subtle – “I don’t feel you love me”, “You’re not the man I married.”, or “You’d rather be with your girlfriends than me.” Regardless of how subtle or truthful the statement, we do not like to be told who we are.

Labeling your partner’s personality or character will inevitably trigger a protest, a counterattack and emotional distance. So why do we do it? Labels are a way of trying to get our partner to examine his or her behavior in the hope that insight will bring change.

So how can you give your partner feedback that is less likely to lead to defensiveness and more likely to motivate him or her to respond to your concerns?

First, talk about yourself, not your partner. If your partner does or says something hurtful, talk about your hurt instead of your partner’s behavior. Keep the focus on you. Challenge your partner to care about your views, feelings and desires instead of reacting to your judgment of him or her.

Instead of: “You’re mean.”

Say: “I’m feeling really hurt. Your words really hurt me.”

Instead of: “You don’t care about me.”

Say: “I feel really distant from you. I need to know that you care about me.”

Stop and ask yourself, “How can I restate my anger, frustration, hurt, or disappointment by telling my partner about my view, feelings and desires for our relationship?’

Second, try to get your partner to talk about him or herself. Counselors are adept at getting their clients to look at themselves by having them talk about themselves. If your partner is a workaholic have him or her talk about what their job means to them, what is the reward and how does he or she measure the cost?

Challenging a person to change their view brings on defenses, whereas most people like to talk about themselves. Even if your partner’s view seems way out of the norm, try to not react judgmentally. Instead, ask your partner to tell you more and you will often see how he or she will soften their position simply by talking about it.

At the same time, you will be building a stronger bond because you are spending time in a more pleasant conversation than when you have argued in the past.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Don’t Tell Me What to Do!


We really, really don’t like to be told what to do. Imagine your partner telling you to change your wardrobe in some small way – changing the color of your nails or not wearing that belt again. Admit it, even though it’s a small request, your reaction is to resist it. Come to think of it, we learn to say no before we learn to say yes!

Resistance is even greater when we ask our partner to make larger changes or greater sacrifices. We simply do not like to be told what to do. So how can you ever get your partner to change for you? Try to remember back to a time when your partner made a change or sacrifice for you. What was different then?

I’m guessing that you recalled a time when you were each giving abundantly to each other. You trusted that your partner cared for you and it felt good to express that caring in return – even by making changes or sacrificing something you wanted. What has changed?

Requests for change no longer occur in the context of a caring relationship, they now sound like demands couched in disapproval. Love becomes conditional as demands feel cold – I’ll do this only if you do that. Chore lists are divided, bank accounts separated, and a chill of emotional separation covers discussions of change.

The only way to recover the spirit of openness to change that you once had is to recover the trust and caring that was once present in your relationship. Instead of thinking about how your partner could improve, think about a small effort you could make to express caring to your partner. Improve your listening skills, speak in a softer more vulnerable way, or reach out to softly touch your partner. Notice the effect that this small action has on your own feelings. Do you feel warmer or does this feel dangerous?

If you find yourself feeling uncomfortable, perhaps this is a sign of how disconnected you have become as a couple. Perhaps it is time to confront the disconnection and begin rebuilding the connection that was once there. It is unrealistic to think you can achieve this overnight, but you can begin today.