The phrase, “That’s like pouring gasoline on a fire.” absolutely describes what happens when defending and explaining yourself are your first words used to calm your partner.
The more you explain, the more trouble you seem to be in with your partner. The more you say your point of view, the more angry your partner seems to become.
Just think of how you respond to someone you are upset with when that person immediately begins explaining and defending the behavior. It does not calm you. In fact, it usually makes you more mad.
Explaining and defending your behavior
ACTUALLY MAKES THINGS WORSE!
In medicine they call it an ‘iatragenic effect.’ When the attempts of the doctor to heal actually become the source of a new symptom or illness. For instance, you go to the doctor for a pimple. She prescribes a medication that then causes you to break out in a rash. There was no bad intention. The doctor did not mean to cause more symptoms, but nonetheless is responsible for having done so.
When your partner is upset with you, and you’ve got adrenaline pumping through your body, and you are angry, hurt, scared or confused; the first response most people think of is a self-centered one. That is the view of the situation that I see. Not the view of the situation as my partner may see it. Well, at that precise time the partner is trying to get his, or her, thoughts and feelings across. If I interrupt that effort by bringing in my experience and point of view and my thoughts and my feelings; then the dialogue necessarily becomes a conflict. My view or your view.
It is your first response, and your FIRST WORDS, that will show your partner what is most important to you.
Are you more interested in defending your good name than
in dealing with how you have affected your partner?
Do my first words convey that:
A) My highest priority is defending myself. Or do my first words show that-
B) I care about how my partner feels and how I affected him or her.
As long as I think that defending and explaining myself is the solution for conflicts that I get into with my partner I am ensuring that the conflict will continue. If I insist that you understand me before I’ve given you the experience of feeling understood by me; then I will continue to find myself at odds with my partner. St. Francis to the rescue! “Seek first to understand others, before seeking understanding for self. Seek first to comfort others before seeking comfort for self.” This means addressing the concerns of your partner ‘as if they were true.’ The truth is simply that your partner thinks and feels these things. So, it is true by definition…. that is what your partner thought and felt. This does not define or convict you of anything. Listening all the way through and trying to see what you can agree with and have some empathy for the partner’s experience is going to allow your partner to calm down and eventually hear out your experience, thoughts and feelings.
There will be some readers that will insist that the OTHER partner starts this process first. Those readers are waiting for their partners statements of apologies, empathy, responsibility and amends. The attitude seems to be, “You first!” For these folks I can only reference Ghandi when he said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Or another saying that goes, “If change is to happen, let it begin with me.” To these people that are still waiting I ask, “Do you want a fuller, compassionate and responsible dialogue with your partner over a contentious issue to happen sooner…. or later?”
If you do decide that you want to be instrumental in calming your partner during conflicts then you are ready to learn the 3 Step technique of addressing three things before you talk about your point of view. It’s all about the sequencing and the order with which you respond to someone who is upset with you. The RealHope Couples Course uses a metaphor to help remember to do a few things before you try to do another thing. It just works better that way.
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