Expressing Feelings Or Just Being An Ass
Are You Expressing Frustration Or Just Being An Ass?
Key relationship concepts:
- “I don’t want to make you feel disrespected by me.”
- “It is O.K. for you to tell me when I’m speaking in a disrespectful way to you.”
- “It’s O.K. that my partner is upset with me.”
- “Sometimes, I’m broadcasting hostility, contempt or aggression and I am unaware of it.
Then, when my partner reacts to my tone of voice or my face, I think to myself, ‘Why is my partner
starting a fight?”
Expressing frustration and anger in relationships is healthy and necessary. Wouldn’t it be great if your partner responded positively each time you said something he or she did bothered you? One reason that people get a defensive response from partners, when expressing frustration, is that it was expressed in a shaming, blaming, harsh, or mean fashion. So, how do you find that line between speaking about your feelings and making your partner feel bad?
I work with a lot of men who have anger problems. Many of them think that they are expressing a legitimate anger or frustration with their partner. So, they are confused and upset that their partner objected, defended, or fought them. They sincerely and honestly believed that they were simply expressing their feelings. Now, it could be that their partners have a problem being able to hear requests or constructive criticism. I’ll cover that later. My job, is to help the men see what part they may be playing in why their relationships talks often turn into high conflict. So we look primarily at what we might be contributing to the problem of conflict.
There is a lot of resistance to being told that your ‘tone of voice’ has an edge of sounding bossy or parental. A tone of voice can convey hostility, rejection, blame, shame, and intimidation. In most cases, people seem to be unaware that their voice is projecting such a negative energy. However, if you are unaware that it sounds that way, you’ll have a hard time accepting that the shaming energy is present in your voice. It really doesn’t matter what you intended.
Let’s say someone tells you that you’re sounding like a parent or a boss. It could be that person’s filter and they may always have difficulty with corrections or others expressing frustrations with them. However, it’s best to sweep your side of the street first, and at least scan your thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and words for hints of rejection and harsh criticism. It doesn’t matter what you intended. Be honest with yourself.
Are you willing to hear that your tone of voice sounded condescending or shaming?
Admit to yourself, and your partner that you are aware that you were harsh, or disrespectful, with you ‘tone of voice’ in some recent moment. And, simply apologize. This will earn you the credibility and trust you need when you want to say there was no harshness present. You see how this works? When you can acknowledge the times you ARE harsh, bossy, or parental, then you are trusted more when you want to declare that you had no such edge in your voice. But, this requires a long time of showing that you can admit it.
I posed the question about ‘finding the line between expressing feelings and being mean, or hurtful.
Here are three ways to know you’ve crossed the line into hurtful harsh expression:
- You recall your tone of voice and realize that you were bossy or parental.
- The person you’re talking with tells you that you’ve got an edge of hostility or judgment in your voice.
- The person you’re talking with defends in a strongly emotional way, or withdraws from speaking.
Another reason you may be in high conflict often; is that you are with a partner who cannot tolerate hearing that he or she has disturbed you, in any way. A partner who is automatically, and reflexively, defensive about being told anything negative. Even, when it’s framed as a respectful request. The problem is that just about all the men I’ve worked with believe this about their partners. They think that their partners are too touchy, too sensitive, or too defensive. I’ve met some of their partners, and I might even agree with that assessment, in some cases. But, the only way to know if the extreme defensiveness is in the partner is to be masterful at sweeping my side of the street to make sure that it’s not me starting it. I may be initiating the ‘flight or flight’ energy first. I can begin by expressing my thoughts and feelings in a non-shaming manner that expresses my feelings. Not a style of expression that mainly shows my judgmental thoughts or rejecting, condemning feelings.
Whether you are a man or a woman I have a challenge for you. Ask your partner the following question.
Do feel it is safe to tell me that you feel disrespected by my tone of voice?
If your partner says, “Yes.” Then you are doing very well at this relationship communication game.
If your partner says, “No.” Then make the following statement to your partner.
In the future I’ll try to make it safer for you to tell
me when you feel disrespected by my tone of voice.
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