A dear friend was telling me about the early days of her marriage. Within the first month, her husband grabbed her arm in a manner that he tried to portray as affectionate. However, she could clearly feel the hostility and anger behind it. She didn’t get angry, attack, or blame him. But she did communicate her position very clearly by saying, “I didn’t care for the way you just grabbed me and it is not okay. Just to let you know, if it ever happens again, we are done.” Interestingly enough, throughout the years of their marriage, it never did happen again.
I asked her what she thought he would have done if she had blamed him for the way he grabbed her. She said that it would have alienated him and compromised the relationship. However, the manner in which she did it instead gained his respect.
In every relationship, a partner will, from time to time, do something that the other doesn’t care for, making them feel offended, hurt, awkward, embarrassed, or criticized. Whether it is ignored at first and repeated until it becomes unbearable or is immediately addressed at the time, responding with attack and blame is not the best choice. Even some therapeutic approaches which suggest saying, “You did this and it therefore made me feel that,” can be counterproductive and alienating.
A better approach would be to say, for example: “I’m feeling upset and would like to talk about it.” The point here is that you are stating your feelings without it being a direct attack or assault. Rather, it’s an invitation to take a deeper look at what just happened. It leaves the door open for each individual to acknowledge their part and responsibility in the encounter. Was what was said or done genuinely inappropriate? Or did it simply trigger an issue in the other person that requires some attention? Even if we’re confident we know the answer to the question, it’s more effective to open that Pandora’s Box in a non-offensive way. When both people can enter the discussion comfortably, the possibility of a productive outcome is greatly enhanced.
In relationships, it is essential to remember that deep inside, we’re all very delicate and vulnerable creatures. We are easily hurt. Relationships evolve when, in challenging situations, both individuals feel safe to enter the delicate terrain together. Attack and blame does not facilitate the process. If we are, over time, attentive in how we handle these uncomfortable moments, our relationships can blossom.
Sometimes we may feel like it takes too much work to be so careful with our words. But in reality it requires far more work to try to clean up the mess and heal the damage we create by speaking harshly.
Speaking carefully is not only more effective in addressing a difficult situation, but it also has the additional benefit of gaining another’s respect. Oftentimes people present a hard facade, not because they are indeed strong, but because they are incapable of speaking from a place of vulnerability. By keeping these principles in mind, not only do we cultivate a healthy relationship with our loved one, but we also become an individual who is spontaneously adept in our manner of speech with all people.
Michael Mamas is the founder of The Center of Rational Spirituality, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the betterment of humanity through the integration of ancient spiritual wisdom with modern rational thought. Dr. Michael Mamas helps individuals and organizations develop a deeper understanding and more comprehensive outlook by providing a 'bridge' between the abstract and concrete, the Eastern and Western, and the ancient and modern. Michael Mamas has been teaching for over 35 years and writes on a variety of subjects on his blogs, MichaelMamas.net and RationalSpirituality.org.