My secret formula for a healthy relationship
How many times have you despaired of being understood? How many times do you repress your despair at being rejected by the person who is supposed to love you more than anybody else? And why do you keep those feelings inside you? Because you are afraid of creating a worse conflict if you speak up?
My best friend, Anne, was at the end of her rope. Of course she was developing ulcers and was taking some kind of pills for life. Of course she was unable to sleep and would toss and turn whole night, thinking that perhaps a new pill will provide relief!
When I finally met her, after 6 years of being distant because of geography, I could not recognize my old friend in this frazzled person I had in front of me. She looked older and spent. It took me some time before I had the courage to ask: What is happening to you? And she said "I don't know how to face my husband with the zillion things that harass me in his behaviour, but I'm so angry at him that I could explode any time!"
What happens is that Anne doesn't know how to confront him, she is afraid of his resistance and probably strong denial and thus she leaves a bad situation to escalate into a worst one, where her anger sits in a bed of despair and contempt. Or course, at this time, there is little love or respect left in her for her husband, who is oblivious to the depth of her negative feelings, of course! He thinks that she has stress ulcers! It took some private meetings with her to get to the bottom of her feelings and ask the question:
"Why is that you don't confront him with his negative behaviour"? And her answer was: I never learnt how to face him! Because I was only told to be always nice and polite, I don't know how to confront anybody when they do things that upset or damage me!
Is this a picture that you recognize? Could you identify with this situation, where you have neither the permission to confront, nor the skills to do it in a safe way? Are you afraid of any kind of confrontation, even a healthy one to defend yourself?
This is partially true: if you confront without knowing how to, in a respectful but firm way, you can get a worse response, and so confirm your fears. But, where does not doing a confrontation leave us? If we can't confront, we stay frustrated and resentful, and the anger eats at us inside.
Meanwhile, the other person continues the offensive behaviour as before, because nobody told him/her not to do so! When at last we do confront, we do in such state of frustration that results are not encouraging, and the other person, taken by surprise, can react very strongly.
If you don't tell the other person when and how she is infringing on you: * You are not in control of your life, * You have more stress. * You begin carrying emotional baggage of resentment. * The relationship deteriorates and the other person never has the opportunity to improve his behaviour.
THEN, if you confront:
* You get the control of your life back. * You are not a passive victim. * Stress level improves. * Mental health goes back to balance. * There is no build up of emotional baggage.
So, HOW do you confront someone about his/her inadequate behaviour? It is simple, not by reproaching the wrong behaviour, but asking for the right one:
If you are tempted to say something like: "You are a jerk! How do you dare to leave without asking me if I had my car repaired! You left me behind last night" It is better to say: "I need you to take better care of me. When we have only a car, it would be better to coordinate transportation among us. In this way, I will feel that we are really a good team."
Main parts of this new response are: Focus is on "I" and not on "you," because this expression feels accusatory, and because it helps highlight the issue of what are our needs that are being frustrated now.
The problem is described, as it is -a real transportation problem- in a calm way. And the solution is provided: "checking with each other is a good thing."
Three take away ideas:
1. It is best to confront sooner than later, letting things fester is wrong. 2. It is best to confront skilfully, using this model. 3. Behavioural change requires that we keep confronting about the wrong behaviour up until the moment when it improves, and then we praise the new behaviour.
About the Author
Neil Warner is the Author of the Book: Positive Conflicts, a new guide to Interpersonal Conflicts. He also offers a FREE 5 days Positive Conflist e-Coaching program. For more information Visit: http://www.positiveconflicts.com
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