When conflict occurs in a personal relationship, it’s easy to blame the other. In my communication seminars I teach a 4-step method* for telling someone you’re upset with something they’ve done or said.
The second step is “Express how you feel.” We give the participants the sentence stem, “When you …, I feel ….” Even after explaining that the “I feel” part is for you to express your emotion — frustrated, upset, sad, disrespected, disappointed, etc. — people typically tend to twist this into blaming: “I feel you don’t really care what I want,” “I feel you’re lazy,” “I feel you’re just not trying very hard.” This is called “mind reading” as you really don’t know what’s going on in the other person’s mind unless you ask. So unless you’re a psychic, avoid mind reading!
A formula or technique can be easy to understand and easy to practice in a classroom role play. It’s quite another thing when you are in the heat of the moment with someone you care about. Your training and knowledge seem to easily fly out the window. It’s happened to me even though I teach the method! It can take all your focus to put into practice something you know well when you’re emotionally plugged in, as your ability is impaired to detach enough to search your knowledgebase and act calmly and rationally.
So what to do? Ideally, when you find yourself getting too emotionally upset to think clearly, you express that you need to take a breather to compose your thoughts. Don’t just walk away or hang up, but explain what you’re doing. Again, I haven’t practiced what I preach 100% of the time and I am upset with myself when I don’t implement what I know works.
The concept of taking a breather is called “buying time.” You tell him, “I want to resolve this, but I’m not thinking clearly now. I’m going to take a walk around the block and we can pick this up in 15 minutes.” It gives both of you a chance to think through what you’re feeling, how to express it and what you want to happen. Sometimes you may need a day or two. Let him know you aren’t just abandoning the conversation or bailing on him.
Stating a reconvening time frame is important. Otherwise it is too easy to just go away and either not come back or pretend nothing has happened. Then the resentment just festers. It feels like this isn’t an important issue. And while it may not be important to one of you, if it’s important to the other it should be given attention from both out of respect for the one who brought it up.
What have you found works when you’re having an emotionally charged conversation (e.g., fight) with the guy you’re dating?
* The method is called the DESC Script. This stands for Describe, Express, Specify (what you want to happen), and Consequences (state what positive will happen if the change happens). This method was developed by Sharon and Gordon Bower.
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