Originally published on Marriage.com
Communication is one of, if not the single most important part of a relationship. What and how things are said play a huge role in the healthiness of the relationship. Even in the healthiest of relationships, there are disagreements. Two people have different experiences and perspectives on things and while they may be communicating and talking about it, what is being said can get lost in translation. Comments are made back and forth, one person gets noticeably upset and their partner says, “Calm down.” Two small words that when said in the midst of a heated discussion are like lighting a match and dropping it in a puddle of gasoline.
Usually things escalate pretty quickly and it’s difficult for person A to understand why person B is upset and person B can’t fully verbalize why it is upsetting. So, here’s the thing. While those words on their own are not intended to be negative or harmful, in this context they have a not-so-positive effect. Saying this in the midst of an argument can often feel dismissive and demand-driven, similar to saying “Shut it down” which most can agree is not at all helpful in this scenario. So, what do you do about it?
If you’re person A and find that you usually say it, it’s usually because you see the upset that your partner is experiencing and because you care, you want to provide comfort and allow space to clear up miscommunication and resolve the issue. Next time, consider: 1) Taking a deep breath because it is always helpful and gives you the opportunity to regulate your emotions before speaking. 2) Describing the moment, using empathy and stating your position. Try saying something like “I can see that you are getting upset and that wasn’t my intention. Let me better explain what I mean.” 3) Taking a pause to postpone the conversation to increase the likelihood of having a more beneficial conversation. You could say something like “Maybe right now isn’t the best time to have this conversation. I don’t want either of us to be upset or argue. Can we talk about it…?” The deal with this one is that you have to name a specific time. Don’t let it linger without resolution.
If you’re person B and it’s been said and you feel like you have a fire erupting inside, try: 1) Also taking a deep breath because it helps with regulating emotions. 2) Express empathy. While it can be hard in the moment, there is always a purpose for it. Saying “I do feel upset and I know that you are trying to make me feel better. Let’s take a step back and restart.” Avoid incorporating the word “but” in this scenario because you negate what you are trying to accomplish and puts you back in the same back-and-forth pattern of placing blame. 3) Ask yourself “Why am I making myself feel upset about this?” This is an interesting question because it turns the focus back to you and how you are interpreting the situation and what is being said. While the topic and even some of the things that are being said are upsetting, you can control feeling frustrated and working through your frustration in the conversation with your partner versus being irate and a miscommunication turning into a war. 4) Using your words to help your partner understand your position. “When this happens, it causes that result. I feel upset about that because of [fill in the blank]. I feel better/less upset/less stressed when…” Try to keep a neutral tone and use intentional language to help your partner understand how this impacts you and what you need.
No one is perfect and relationships have their challenging moments. Tap into the trust and care that you believe exists in your relationship, stay away from the judgment and blame game, take deep breaths and hit the restart button as many times as you need to. If you’re getting stuck and repeating the same patterns, ask for help.