What You’ll Learn Today:
- Why you really suffer: your perceptions and expectations
- My top 5 tools for never fighting with your partner again
- How to ask questions the “right” way
Over 2000 years ago, Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius said, “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
What he was saying, that’s still true today, is that you feel the way you think. What you believe, expect and think about something leads to how you feel about that something. Believe it or not, you can be experience pain, discomfort and upheaval without becoming angry, hopeless, anxious (or insert your favorite suffering here). In the end, it’s our perceptions and expectations that make us unhappy.
When we experience unpleasant or “negative” emotions, we want them to go away. We tend to avoid the bad stuff and yucky feelings. As we try to avoid, we shift our thoughts and attention outside of ourselves and onto another person or the larger environment. In other words, we start to (unconsciously) blame external things and people instead of looking at ourselves.
You’re basically as happy as your expectations. It’s important to keep your standards high, but your expectations low. Most people have this backwards. They have crappy standards and will accept all kinds of unhealthy behavior from just about everyone, but then have high expectations and feel let down when they’re not met (you can see a nifty three-minute video about this if the concept feels tough to grasp). If you’ve ever been disappointed or frustrated, your expectations were too high in that situation. You want to hold your standards in a high place, while not expecting other people to meet them 100% of the time.
Another reason you might get your panties in a twist (aka: suffer) stems from your perceptions in a given situation. We tend to think we’re “right” about something and so sure about the “facts” but there are many ways to look at any situation. If five people saw a car accident from five different vantage points, it’s likely that they would have up to five different accounts of what happened and whose fault it was. Everyone might be sure that they’re “right” but it’s really only their perception of what happened.
Now, with that information fresh in your mind, let’s talk about 5 secrets that will help you avoid as many fights with your partner as possible.
1. CORRECT OR EFFECTIVE (THE OLD “HAPPY OR RIGHT”)
The next time you’re in a disagreement, ask yourself, “Do I want to be correct or effective?” In other words, what’s your end game here? Yes, maybe you’re “correct” that your partner left his dirty socks in the middle of the floor (again) but do you want to fight about socks or have a fun night watching House of Cards? Instead of being correct you could be effective and change your stance, your tone or the words that you use (or just hire a housekeeper). After all, if he keeps leaving his socks around even though you’ve “discussed” this (over and over), are you being effective and getting him to change his behavior or are you just feeling like a bitchy nag? You can be correct all day, but is this getting you to your goal of a happy home life and being better understood?
2. SAY “YES” FIRST
Arguing, dismissing or denying isn’t the way to stop an argument. If your partner is telling you how horrible their day was and you say, “It isn’t that bad” or “I told you yesterday you shouldn’t have gone into work today” you’re going to piss off your partner. Instead of them just being upset about work, they’re now going to be upset with you! Instead, empathize first. Say “yes” first. You can start with, “I’m sorry your day sucked” or “I hate that you had a bad day.” When your partner feels you’re both on the same side they’ll be much more likely to listen to anything you say or ask next.
3. ASK QUESTIONS
Try to have an entire conversation in which you only ask questions. Don’t suggest, offer advice, criticize or anything else. Instead, ask collaborative questions to help move the conversation forward:
- “What do you think that means?”
- “How can I help you with this?”
- “What do you think your/our next steps should be?”
- “What did you think I meant by what I just said?”
Never get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. If you’re in an argument, notice if you’re agitated because you’re hungry or feeling rejected. Do NOT have a conversation when you’re well and truly pissed off (see next tip). That old saying “never go to bed angry” is BS. It’s WAY better to go to bed angry than to stay up all night, completely exhausted, trying to have a meaningful conversation. Most things look much different in the morning after a night’s sleep (even a fitful one).
5. TIMING AND TONE
You know how sometimes you can’t wait to tell your partner how wrong they were yesterday? If you just can’t wait to tell them your side of something and convince them of how right you are, then I’m telling you it is NOT the right time to talk to them. Wait. Yes, wait. When you wait (aka: change your timing), your tone will naturally change to something calmer and more inviting and you’ll likely choose “healthier” or nicer words (which will be much better received). So, wait until later today or tomorrow to have that conversation about why you were upset. Remember my earlier tip: Do you want to be correct or effective? Before you say anything, ask yourself these questions: “How do I want the other person to feel at the end of this conversation?” And more importantly, “How do I want to feel at the end of this conversation?” Then act accordingly.
Resources and Links:
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