When humans communicate we rarely are upfront and clear about our intentions. Many times, most times in my opinion, we don’t even know the full extent of our intentions. How many times have you gotten into a fight with somebody, and after wards you were wondering why in the world you said what you said?
It’s hard enough to clear air after a particularly nasty fight, even harder when you aren’t sure why you were fighting to begin with. Underneath our words and sentences are emotions so deep and complex many are afraid to even acknowledge their existence.
It’s no wonder that communication can sometimes be difficult. Sometimes the words themselves with are seemingly impossible to argue with, even though they give you a deep “icky” feeling inside. Many times we unconsciously try eliciting an emotion in somebody else through manipulative tactics because we aren’t willing to address, or even understand our true needs.
For example. Lets say your girlfriend or boyfriend says to you:
“If you loved me, you’d know when I was angry.”
If you address this accusation at any logical level, you are doomed from the start. Simply by engaging in the conversation, you will be at an emotional disadvantage.
If you disagree, and try to assert that you do indeed love them, you are admitting you don’t know when they are angry. There’s just another reason. So you are admitting that you can’t read the emotions of your partner.
If you disagree, and say you know when they are angry, you are tacitly admitting that you aren’t being clear, because they don’t feel that you know. Another defensive position.
If you agree, then you are tacitly admitting that you don’t love them, because the “If you loved me..” is in the second conditional, meaning a description of an event that isn’t likely true. Yet another defensive position.
No matter how you respond to the actual words or logic in the sentence above, you are doomed to fail. The sentence is constructed to elicit a defensive emotional position, no matter how answer it. Of course, you will feel obligated to apologize for your horrible actions, thereby making this an extremely useful manipulative tactic to solicit an apology or admission of wrongdoing, or an admission of responsibility for your partner’s cruddy emotions.
However, there is another way. Ideally, you want to let your partner know that while you acknowledge their emotions, you are not responsible for them. They are. To do this in the above example, you need to keep your cool, and not get drawn into an argument, no matter how covertly it has been set up.
There are a couple ways of doing this. One is to simply be vague, and not give credence to what they say. This is good for dealing with people that you don’t really have a vested interest in creating a lasting emotional relationship with (like a coworker or somebody else you are kind of forced into dealing with.)
In this case you just pause, as if you are thinking and say:
“Hmm, maybe you’re right.” And then go on about your business. Because the above claim (if you loved me, or cared about me you’d..whatever) has many different levels of meaning, it puts the ball back in their court to explain exactly what they mean.
If you are interested in keeping a health relationship, you’ll need to ignore the surface language, and address the likely underlying emotions. In this case they are either feeling unloved, or they are feeling angry. Just pick, and carefully ask for more information. Be sure to keep an even keel, and not get drawn into an argument.
“What is it about me that makes you think I don’t love you?”
“And why does that (whatever that is) mean that I don’t love you?
“What is it about me that makes you feel angry?”
“Why does that (whatever that is) make you feel angry?”
The trick is to let them know you are interested in them feeling better, while at the same time making them aware that they are responsible for their own emotions.
This can take some practice, but it is very powerful in getting to the bottom of difficult emotions and feelings that can clutter up an otherwise health and rewarding relationship.
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