Author: Ann Schiebert
Dear Ann: I don’t know how to talk with my spouse without her becoming upset. When I tell her that she needs to be more open to what I am saying to her, she gets mad. When she tells me what I need to do, I get defensive. It seems like there are unspoken feelings tied up in our words. How can we communicate without all the emotional reactions?
Having a conversation with our loved one can be challenging, especially if we have been in a long term relationship. With long term relationships, practiced ways of communicating become the automatic way of conversing. With short term relationships, there are fewer established communication dynamics. However, ways of communicating from our families of origin, can be brought into current relationships.
One Up and One Down Communication
Let’s explore the letter above:
"When I tell her….." This suggests that YOU are going to TELL or command, or give advice, or point out a lack. "When I tell her…." implies that you have superior knowledge that you are going to impart in a condescending manner. Consider how you, the reader, react to someone TELLING you what to do, or how to change, or how you, "should," be.
"When she tells me what I need to do…" This statement can only be delivered and received from a Queen/Servant or King/Servant perspective. It is most arrogant to tell others what they, "need to do." It is disrespectful. The covert message is that the receiver of this statement doesn’t have the brains to figure out what they, "need," to do for themselves. And YOU, with your superior knowledge, have to direct them.
Is it any wonder that with these components in a conversation that people become defensive? Is it a surprise that negative emotions/feelings are elicited when one addresses another with words that feel condescending and arrogant?
"I" statements! These keep the focus on YOU. How YOU feel, respond, react to certain behaviors, expressions, and what YOU need without telling anyone what they NEED to do to satisfy your preferences.
"I feel upset when I think I’m the only one doing housework. Can we discuss how to divide it more evenly?"
"I am frustrated when we don’t alternate getting up with the children. I’d like to sleep in until 9:00 am on Saturday. Would you like to do that on Sunday?"
"I’d really appreciate it if you would call when you are going to be late for dinner. Can you do that?"
Go for the collaboration, the buy in. Remember, if you start your sentences with, "YOU," the other person will automatically feel defensive.
Practice this in your communication and you will be making huge strides toward equitable communication!
Equitable communication invites increased intimacy because TOGETHER you are working on a solution.