HEIDI F. YODER, MFC 47168
Psychotherapy & Life Skills
5655 College Ave.
Oakland, CA 94618
- Speak from an “I position.” (“I think,” “I feel,” “I believe,” “I wish,” “I fear.”) A true “I position” conveys your own experience and reactions without criticizing or blaming the other. Watch out for “pseudo-I positions” or “disguised you positions.” (“I feel you need to control everything.”)
- Sort out who owns the problem. Get clear on the boundaries of individual responsibility. Let other people own their own problems and take responsibility for their own reactions.
- Avoid below-the-belt tactics (e.g., blaming, interpreting, diagnosing, labeling, analyzing, preaching, moralizing, ordering, warning, interrogating, ridiculing, lecturing, distracting, withdrawing, probing). Don’t put the other person down.
- Confine yourself to one issue at a time. Always stay in the here-and-now. Bringing up the past is a diversionary tactic. There may be a time to discuss past grievances, but not during a fight.
- Talk in specifics. Avoid generalities and vague complaints. If the other person is vague (“You’re insensitive,” “You don’t give enough,” “You’re difficult to work with”) request clarification, including specific examples.
- Avoid mind-reading. Never assume you or someone else know, or should know what has not been explicitly stated in words.
- A cold withdrawal is dirty fighting; taking time out to get clear and centered is reasonable and fair.
- Listen carefully to others and be receptive to feedback. If you begin to get defensive, go into “active listening.”
- Learn to apologize quickly when an apology is due, before things escalate. Learn also to say, “I don’t know,” “I’m not sure,” “I’m not clear,” and “I need more time to sort out where I stand on that.”
- Never tell another person what she/he thinks or feels, or “should” think or feel. If another attacks your thoughts and feelings, you do not need to provide logical arguments to back them. Better to calmly say, “Well, it may seem crazy or irrational to you, but this is the way I feel.”
- Learn to appreciate that there are multiple realities. If you are fighting about who has “The Truth,” you may be missing the point, there is no “objective truth” when you have more than one person. Differing views of reality and conflicting wishes and preferences don’t mean one person is “wrong.” Your legitimate anger, for instance, does not mean the other person is to blame.
- Remember! The only person you can change is yourself! Don’t try to change or control another person. It doesn’t work.
- DON’T use physical violence or threats. For people who have been dealing with trauma, lack of access to resource, & discrimination throughout their lives, it can take less to be triggered in a high stakes conversation. It’s impossible to be honest and clear when either person is not feeling safe. If there has been a pattern of threats of leaving or of violence…a moratorium on these practices needs to be agreed to in writing (perhaps for 7 days at a time at first), then it will take some time to build trust.
- DON’T mind-read or psycho-analyze. Your partner, not you, should be the one to say what they are thinking and feeling. People often know all too well the silencing of being defined by others, and it can’t take place in meaningful discussions where the need for being heard is so important. The less you can each comment on your opinion of anything about the other (unless asked), the better.
- DON’T throw in the kitchen sink. Resentments about unfinished fights from the past will cloud the issue and escalate anger. It can feel as though noticing and pointing out a pattern is the most important thing, but not when emotions are high and something is being approached for the first time. Solve one problem at a time. When you both are calm you can bring up a pattern without details focusing instead on your feelings and how you would appreciate help in finding a different way of seeing/ approaching that situation.
- DON’T use shouting, name-calling, sarcasm, insults, or accusations. Especially not identity related-that is just not allowed. In addition to hurting your partner’s feelings, these behaviors insure that you WON’T be heard, trusted, or taken seriously. If you want to be heard, avoiding defensiveness is your goal.
- DO identify the problem. Ask yourself exactly what’s upsetting you. Is it really that small, annoying thing that just happened? Is it really about your partner at all? Think before you talk.
- DO choose a quiet, relaxed time and place to have your discussion, if you can. Best option, take a walk or find a way to be lightly active that fits you level of ability while you talk (row on a lake if walking isn’t an option). When you’re upset, most problems seem more urgent than they really are.
- DO tell your partner what you would like to happen, and be specific. Describe the behavior you would like your partner to do.”I’d like it if you’d wash the dishes at least 2 nights a week.” It will probably go over better if followed by what you are willing to do.
- DO use “I” statements. Starting a sentence with the word “you” will put anyone on the defensive, especially someone who’s already mad at you. The word “I” signals that you’re simply going to say your own point of view. Continuing to allow for others to have their own realities by using words and phrases like “seemed” or “from my perspective” helps the other person feel safe actually hearing you.
- DO use feeling statements. “I think” and “I want” are okay, too, but they express opinions and invite disagreement. You are the absolute authority on your own emotions, so no one can argue with “I feel.” (Hint: Don’t say “I feel” when you really mean “I think,” as in “I feel you’re being unreasonable.”) And though people can’t argue with how you feel, just as you occasionally try to minimize ignore or otherwise argue yourself out of your feelings, others occasionally will try.
- DO use active listening techniques. Make eye contact. Listen carefully without interrupting or talking over your partner. Then ask questions to clarify (not challenge) what you are hearing. Then repeat it or paraphrase it, to show you understand, whether or not you agree. Also try to show verbally work through gaining empathy and compassion for how your partner might have felt given the perspective they just described.
- DO take time-outs to calm down, if either person’s anger seems to be escalating. Agree ahead of time that time-outs will be a set amount of time, tell your partner you love them, and that’s what you’re doing, before you take space. It’s also good to know who will take responsibility for initiating the discussion again after the time out.
- DO be willing to apologize, compromise, or agree to disagree, whenever it’s appropriate to do so.
- The Devil doesn’t need an advocate. If this being is as strong as rumor has it, no one needs mere humans advocating for it less than the Devil. If you are someone who has used this as an excuse to be a contrarian for much of your adult life, time to face up to that, decide what meaning it holds for you, if it is a pattern/ value you want to continue, and look at what price it has had on your relationships.