Katie is an entrepreneur, Broadway enthusiast, lifestyle coach, event coordinator, and best friend to several people. She owns Tom Cat Salon in Columbus, Ohio and takes after her father. She can often be found redecoration and making up songs. Children and puppies trust her on sight. She is working on a humorous, mostly honest auto-biography and literally cannot stop listening to Hamilton the Musical.
Today I had a conversation with my guy that ended really, really well. I could hear him just fine over the phone, though when I spoke I wasn’t coming through clearly. He told me repeatedly that I was breaking up. I huffed and said, forcefully, “Well, there’s nothing I can do about it!”
Sigh. How often we find ourselves in these moments where, if we are listening carefully, we hear ourselves loud and clear. I was not truly upset with him about having to repeat myself. Nor did being interrupted bother me (okay, maybe a little). I was annoyed with myself for feeling helpless, for giving my power away to frustration.
I convinced myself in seconds that he was attacking me, that he felt I was the problem. As one can imagine, he took it like an angel as well. That’s a big leap from “Tell me about your day.” Instead of stopping myself, as I know how to do, to evaluate my feelings and options, I threw in the towel and took it out on him because (here’s the real butt-kicker) I was secretly taking it out on myself.
A little game I like to play when it becomes clear that an argument is really about our own junk and not the others’ is to replace the accusatory “you” statements and replace them with “me.” Example:
What is wrong with you? = What is wrong with me?
Why aren’t you listening to me? = What am I not listening to you?
Why is this so important to you? = Why is this so important to me?
How you speak to your partner reflects how you speak yourself. The ways in which we react to our own faults, mistakes, joys, and accomplishments directly affect the way we react in these moments when our loved (or not so loved) ones are involved. You know the people who are always so generous and kind to others? You can bet they are gentle and gracious with themselves.
Here are 6 questions to ask yourself before your words and feelings get ahead of you.
- What do I want?
Do I want to get somewhere on time? Do I want silence? Do I want my voice to be heard? Do I want to simply “win” the argument? What is my ideal outcome? Taking a few moments to dig into what you actually want will do your emotions wonders. Asking yourself this will bring you back to your intentions, allowing you to focus on what matters and creating the space for everyone to get what they want out of the situation. (You may even be surprised how often you don’t want your partner to “just shut up.”)
- What do I need?
Even deeper than what you want, what you need is the root of your priorities. Do you need to feel affirmed or important? Do you need to feel protected? This question is also about tuning in to what you need in that moment. Do you need to go for a walk? Be alone for a few minutes? Have the floor to think out loud? Narrowing down your needs from your wants allows you to see what is truly necessary.
- Does this matter?
Does this matter to you? To them? How much? Will this matter tomorrow? A month from now? Ten years from now? If you can confidently answer yes to these questions, the discussion is absolutely worth having. Consider then if this exact moment is the most empowering moment for all involved to discuss it. (Or is it just the best moment for you?)
- Why does this matter?
“Why” is my favorite follow up question! It reveals to us all sorts of gems we pretend not to know. You may discover you actually feel afraid of something instead of angry, or that you feel self-righteous in the face of defeat, or that your priorities are exactly where they should be and it’s time to find a new approach.
- Is this issue more important than this person?
This is a beautiful, confronting question. My partner taught me this one! He asks himself in or after any argument whether or not the issue at hand is more important than me. The answer, for him, is always a resounding no. It brings him back to a place where he remembers how we each need to experience love and feel heard. Sometimes it looks like space and patience; sometimes it looks like frank feedback. (This is especially helpful when you’re ready to yell at the clerk over their return policy.)
- How can I best love them?
How can you best love yourself? See, I turned it around on you. This is the most important question to ask your partner out loud. The answers give you both a chance to pause and consider together what love and listening looks like.
So how can you? What can you do? What can you say? Imagine your most peaceful, joyful outcome. What would have to happen to get there? Do that, both of you. See what happens. The results may be surprising.