What you’re feeling, how you react, how you interpret your partner’s words and actions are your responsibility. Yes, they may be doing something very wrong, but you get to choose how you react to it.
It’s important that you not blame your partner for what you’re feeling. Their words or actions may be a trigger for your reaction, but they aren’t responsible for how you react. If you get hurt, or angry, or sad, that’s from something within you. Most likely from some childhood way of learning how to cope.
Here’s an example of how to talk about your reaction, without blaming. Many years ago, when I was first getting to know a new man (we went together for only 18 months), he was in Utah on business and said he’d call me the next day. Excited to hear from him, every time the phone rang I thought it might be him. As the day rolled by, I had the opportunity to go through a variety of emotions. By midnight, I was not doing very well. All my reactions had come from within me. He had absolutely nothing to do with it except trigger it by not calling when he said he would. He was totally unaware of all my reactions.
By the time he called the next day, happy to connect, I was upset, but not blaming him. I was crying and could tell by his words and tone that he wished he could make it better.
As he tried to apologize, I explained that my hurt feelings weren’t his to fix, but that he was a trigger for them. I had made up what it meant. He just didn’t call, that was all.
I told him I might react the same the next time it happens, but he shouldn’t feel responsible for my feelings, just for being the trigger. We determined it would be more polite if he did call when he said he would. When the conversation was over he said, “I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” He caught himself and said, “I might call you tomorrow.” When we parted he thanked me for teaching him so much about how to love. Hopefully that was one of those things.
TO CRITICIZE or NOT
I could have blamed, criticized, and accused him. And I might have been correct in doing so. But no one likes to be criticized. Besides, when we do so the person we’re trying to talk to can’t really hear us because they’re on guard and making their case for why they’re not at fault. Plus, blaming is downright ugly. Picture someone with their finger wagging in your face and imagine their tone of voice. It’s quite unattractive.
When you’re upset with someone for something they have, or have not done, you should explain how it feels to you, not how they’re bad and wrong. An example would be, “I was embarrassed and hurt when you told your sister that I can’t cook very well,” as opposed to, “You’re a jerk for saying that to your sister. How could you?” Can you see how different his reaction would be to the two ways of expressing your upset?
Communication stops in the second example because defenses go up. When defenses go up, you are no longer being heard. And you do want to be heard, don’t you? Of course, you want your communication to be successful.
Non-blaming communication takes practice. You have to think first, then express yourself as unemotionally and clearly as possible. If you’re feeling angry sometimes it’s a good idea to go outside, let off steam, then come back when you can stay calm.
As we hear all the time, communication is the key to a successful relationship.