Soft Start Ups

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Our old friend Charlie Brown nailed it–his soft answer turned away a whole flock of wrath. Marriage researcher John Gottman provides us with a list of questions to measure the level of softness in our relationships. How many of these statements are true for you and your partner?

  1. My partner is often very critical of me.
  2. I hate the way my partner raises an issue.
  3. Arguments often seem to come out of nowhere.
  4. Before I know it, we are in a fight.
  5. When my partner complains, I feel picked on.
  6. I seem always to get blamed for issues.
  7. My partner is negative all way out of proportion.
  8. I feel I have to ward off personal attacks.
  9. I often have to deny charges leveled against me.
  10. My partner’s feelings are too easily hurt.
  11. What goes wrong is often not my responsibility.
  12. My spouse criticizes me personally.
  13. Issues get raised in an insulting manner.
  14. My partner will at times complain in a smug or superior way.
  15. I have just about had it with all this negativity between us.
  16. I feel basically disrespected when my partner complains.
  17. I just want to leave the scene when complaints arise.
  18. Our calm is suddenly shattered.
  19. I find my partner’s negativity unnerving and unsettling.
  20. I think my partner can be totally irrational.

If you have five or less TRUE answers you and your partner know how to initiate difficult conversations gently without being critical or harsh. This increases your chance of resolving conflict. If you have six or more TRUE answers one or both of you tends to be harsh, contemptuous, critical, defensive, or withdrawing. This prevents issues from being resolved. If your spouse tends to raise issues harshly the best advice I can give is to make sure he/she feels known, respected, and loved by you and that you accept his/her influence often.

Try the Charlie Brown approach and see how it works!

Making Demands VS Making Requests

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Most fights are fueled by unmet needs like the need for a kind touch, meaningful words, fun, financial or emotional support, sex, meals, romance, space, gifts, affection, meaningful conversation, quality time, a tidy house, and acts of service. When those needs aren’t met we tend to get frustrated and do one of three things.

  • Go silent and fume to ourselves, “If they really loved me they’d meet my needs. They don’t care!” Remember, it’s not fair to expect your spouse to give you something you never ask for. They can’t read your mind.
  • Explode in anger with non verbal messages that say, “I’m going to make you meet my needs with guilt, shame, manipulation, pouting, anger, and arm twisting.” Remember, God loves a cheerful giver and so do you. A need met out of obligation, fear, or to dodge your wrath isn’t a very meaningful gift.
  • Nag, pester, whine, and pout, “My happiness depends on you; you’re my oxygen and until you shape up I’m going to be moody, surly, and uncommunicative.”  Remember, this comes across as controlling, codependent, and childish.

A better way to get your needs met is to make a request without being demanding. What’s the difference?

Requests are made with calmness.

If requests are ignored we stay calm.

They don’t hurt the one we talk to.

Requests lead to discussion and negotiation.

Responding to requests is freely given.

Respondents feel equal to the one requesting.

Requests come across as kind and open.

Requests are like a vitamin in a relationship.

Meeting a request leads to growth and change.

Requests are a forgotten ingredient in communication.

Requests are easy to give if you don’t have childhood wounds.

If done right requests don’t sound nagging.

Requests are free of criticism.

Requests inspire our partner make good requests.

On the other hand….

Demands are made with agitation and anger.

If our demands are ignored we explode.

Demands usually hurts, intimidates, or angers the one we talk to.

Demands lead to fights and verbal jousting.

Responding to demands can lead to resentment.

Responding to a demand makes us feel subservient to the one demanding.

Demands come across as controlling and bossy.

Demands are like poison in a relationship.

Meeting a demand leads to reactions and frustration.

Demands are a damaging ingredient in communication.

Demands are easy to give if you have childhood wounds.

If done wrong demands ARE nagging!

Demands are loaded with criticism.

Demands inspire our partner to retaliate and make demands, too.

Take turns talking calmly making your request. To Make a Request finish these sentences with actions that are clear, specific, doable (don’t ask for the moon), brief (don’t ask for twenty things at once), and positive (IE ask them to do something, not stop doing something):

  • There are certain things that you do that trigger my frustration. It would be helpful and healing if you would…
  • There are certain things that you do that trigger my fear. It would be helpful and healing if you would….
  • I have unmet needs and it would be helpful and healing if you would…

The “You do it, too!” Defense

If you’re ever accused of doing something inappropriate, irritating, or wrong, I do not recommend using the “You do it, too!” defense. Here’s what it sounds like in some of its various permutations.

“You’re being rude!” “Well, you’re rude to me!”

“You’re so negative.” “Like you aren’t?”

“You misunderstand me.” “And you misunderstand me!”

“You’re so angry.”  “Don’t deny it; you get angry, too!”

“You’re spoiling the kids.”  “So do you!”

“You drink too much.”   “And last New Year’s Eve you didn’t?!”

“You push my buttons.”  “Because you push mine.”

“All you do is argue!”   “You started it.”

If these exchanges seem rare and far-fetched consider yourself fortunate. On the other hand, if they hit close to home, read on.

I watch conflicted people fight with the same attention an umpire watches pitches in baseball. If the folly of the “You do it, too!” approach isn’t apparent, allow me to clarify. This approach is ill-advised for the following reasons.

  1. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
  2. It leads to impasse, log jam, and stalled negotiations.
  3. It triggers defensiveness in your disputant.
  4. It’s a childish way to rationalize, justify, and excuse childish behavior.
  5. It’s irresponsible; if we don’t acknowledge our contribution to a conflict things will never get better.

What’s the alternative? The next time you’re on the receiving end of a “You” accusation replace defensiveness with curiosity. Some common phrases that help deescalate conflict.

“I do?”

“Huh?”

“My bad!”

“I didn’t know that.”

“I wasn’t aware of that.”

“I’ll look at my contribution. Will you look at yours?”

“What is it like to live (work, commute, eat) with me?”

“There might be a grain of truth to this. Lemme think about it.”

“I don’t see me that way but I’ll try to look at me from your point of view.”

If your disputant is used to hearing you use the “You do it, too!” defense, they’ll be pleasantly shocked if you try the curious approach. I highly recommend it.